People take zinc (Zn) supplement for different reasons, starting from COVID-19 protection or treatment, immunity and energy boosting to improving the texture of their skin, hair, and nails. But who needs zinc supplementation? What are the risks associated with taking too much zinc? May one confidently claim that adding more zinc to the diet is going to improve our appearance and immunity?
The Role of Zinc in the Body
Zinc is needed for of over 300 chemical reactions in the human body including digestion, nerve and immunity functions and many other processes . The metabolic functions involving zinc can be divided into 3 categories:
- zinc is an indirect helper in the production of new collagen as it plays a vital role in collagen synthesis.
- directly involved in new DNA synthesis and in the genetic material into the cells 
- supports the growth and normal functioning of immune cells. Even a mild or moderate deficiency can slow down the activity of these cells ( lymphocytes, neutrophils, and macrophages ) that protect the body from viruses and bacteria.
Causes of Zinc Deficiency
- Diet rich simple carbohydrates and poor in zinc.
- Diet rich in whole grains and beans
- Damage on the GI tract lining such as in leaky gut or after gastrointestinal surgery
- Chronic stress
- Chronic alcohol abuse
- Candidia overgrowth
- Excessive calcium intake
Most healthy, non-pregnant adults in the United States get enough zinc from their diet. However, certain individuals are more likely than others to have trouble getting enough zinc due to their increased demand and increased loses.
Reasons why you may need a zinc supplement
Habitual alcohol consumption. Alcohol has the ability to decrease the amount of zinc that the body absorbs and to increase the amount excreted in the urine.
Gastrointestinal Surgeries. People who have had gastrointestinal surgery, such as weight loss surgery, or bowl resection (due to Ulcerative Colitis or Crohn’s disease) have compromised ability to absorb zinc.
Vegetarians. As meat is one of the richest sources of this trace element some vegans and vegetarians may not receive adequate amount from their diet. The main protein source for many vegetarians are beans and other legumes, which contain compounds called phytates that block zinc absorption. For this reasons, vegetarians might need to eat as much as 50% more zinc than the recommended amounts or
consider an oral supplement.
Infants who are breastfed because breast milk does not have enough zinc for infants over 6 months of age. Older infants, who do not take formula should be given foods that have zinc such as pureed meats. Formula-fed infants get enough zinc from infant formula.
Pregnancy and location: Zinc plays critical roles during embryogenesis ( fetal formation), fetal growth, and milk secretion. Thus the needs during pregnancy and lactation are much increased. Taking a prenatal vitamin with adequate amount of zinc is recommended during the pre-conception, pregnancy and location.
People with healing wounds. As zinc is needed to create new cells, particularly collagen and fiber-like tissues it is essential to be present in adequate amounts during the wound healing process. The mineral also supports immune cell activity that combats inflammation from a wound. Many clinicians recommend administering up to 50 mg of elemental zinc per day until the wound is fully closed.
Diarrhea is both a symptom and a reason for zinc deficiency. The mechanism by which zinc deficiency causes diarrhea is unknown. If you have had loose stool for more than a week, taking a zinc supplement may be a good idea. On the other hand, if you have inadequate stores of in your body, the deficiency state can lead to diarrhea.
Kidney Disease. People with kidney disease on hemodialysis are at risk of zinc deficiency and might require zinc supplements. However, if you have chronic kidney disease do not take zinc supplement without consulting with your health care provider.
Prolonged use if NSAID drugs such as Ibuprofen/Tylenol may lead to gastrointestinal damage and low absorption of zinc. Studies show that these medications may cause ulcer, and supplementing zinc may help prevent it.
The elderly, suffering from multiple diseases and taking numerous medications, may have low zinc intake from a poor appetite. Consistently, they are at risk for infections, such as pneumonia and skin ulcers.
Children from low and middle-income countries that contributes to stunting of growth, diarrhea, pneumonia, and malaria.
How Do I know if I have Zinc Deficiency?
Zinc deficiency is characterized by a loss of appetite and a loss of taste, poor mood and memory, low energy, diarrhea, in some cases hair loss, growth retardation, impaired immune function. In more severe cases, delayed sexual maturation, impotence, hypogonadism in males.
Daily Requirements for Zinc
Protection against COVID-19. Some researchers note that zinc can interfere with covid-19 virus replication in the human body. This however, remains a theory and more research is needed to confirm this statement. 
What is the recommended zinc dose?
- For adults 19+ years is 11 mg a day
- For women is 8 mg per day
- Pregnancy and lactation requires slightly more at 11 mg and 12 mg, respectively.
The Tolerable Upper Intake Level is the maximum daily intake unlikely to cause harmful effects on health. The UL for zinc is 40 mg daily for all males and females ages 19+ years.
Doses higher than 40 mg per day are not recommended as zinc competes with copper for absorption and high intake of zinc can cause copper deficiency.
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