There are many health and performance benefits from getting enough zinc. Many people know about zinc for its immune boosting properties, but this mineral is actually a wonder of health benefits. Despite its central role in wellness and performance, many people are at risk of zinc deficiency, even in the developed world. In one review on the importance of zinc, scientists write that “zinc is such a critical element in human health that even a small deficiency is a disaster.”
How Does Zinc Benefit Health?
Zinc is in every tissue in the body. It is directly involved in cell division and the maintenance of ideal hormone levels. Zinc is also a powerful antioxidant, helping to prevent cancer and other diseases.
Zinc is also key for athletes. Adequate zinc is necessary for optimal physical performance, energy levels, and body composition. Zinc affects protein synthesis and is required for proper function of red and white blood cells. It is highly concentrated in our bones, the pancreas, kidneys, liver, and retina.
What Are The Health Risks of Low Zinc?
The body takes a beating when you are low in zinc. Zinc deficiency compromises immune function and puts you at greater risk of complications from illnesses like covid and the flu. Lack of zinc causes blood sugar issues, low energy, and depression. Zinc deficiency makes both men and women infertile and causes low libido. Low zinc also exacerbates the effects of stress on the body and accelerates aging.
This article will give you the top ten reasons why you should attend to your zinc levels. Be aware that zinc deficiency is not only prevalent in malnourished individuals or developing countries. Rather, it is widespread in the U.S. and the UK, and it is particularly common in areas where the population eats a large amount of cereal and grain proteins.
#1 Improve Athletic Performance and Strength
A lesser known benefit of zinc is how it affect athletic performance. Adequate zinc impacts strength development from training because it plays a primary role in hormone production. Research shows having ample zinc available in the body allows for a more robust release of testosterone, growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1). Athletic performance and strength capacity are depleted when hormone levels drop.
A recent study found that giving trained athletes a zinc supplement for four weeks prior to an exhaustive exercise test resulted in a greater post-workout testosterone response than a placebo. Zinc enhances the conversion rate of androstenedione to testosterone, leading the body to produce testosterone at an even higher rate.
Not only will healthy zinc levels allow for performance and muscle development in both men and women, the post-workout hormone boost can improve recovery from training as well.
#2 Get The Super Antioxidant Effects of Zinc
Zinc is an excellent antioxidant. The purpose of an antioxidant is to get rid of free radicals that cause damage to cells in the body by bonding with them and neutralizing them. Zinc is particularly good at countering the damaging effect of high iron. Zinc also targets free radicals that cause inflammation throughout the body.
#3 Improve Sleep, Cognition & Energy Levels
Zinc has many benefits for the brain. This mineral plays an essential role in neurotransmitter function and helps maintain cognition. For example, zinc regulates dopamine, an energizing neurotransmitter that gives you drive and focus. Zinc can treat ADHD in children. One study of 400 children with diagnosed ADHD found that taking 150 mg/d of zinc sulfate improved impaired social behavior and made subjects less hyperactive and impulsive than a placebo.
Also, zinc plays a role in sleep quality and quantity. Zinc promotes melatonin metabolism, a key hormone for healthy sleep.
#4 Elevate Mood and Avoid Depression
The exact benefit of zinc for reducing depression is unknown, however it likely has to do with how it impacts neurotransmitters and inflammation. For example, zinc regulates dopamine production, which is a chemical that boosts energy, mood, and reward-driven learning.
Another benefit of zinc is that it acts as an antioxidant, helping get rid of inflammatory biomarkers such as C-reactive protein and tumor necrosis factor that cause cell damage.
Women may be at greater risk of depression from low zinc than men. In a study of women who were taking antidepressants, those with low zinc levels had a five times greater risk of ongoing depression. It’s thought that the gender-based relationship between low zinc and depression is related to how zinc influences energy levels and production of the hormone estrogen.
In women, estrogen is involved in serotonin production—the neurotransmitter that makes people feel good—and zinc supplementation can increase the density of serotonin receptors in the brain.
#5 Prevent Alzheimer’s & Promote Brain Health
Brain benefits zinc extend to protecting against cognitive decline. The super antioxidant effects of zinc allow it to effectively eliminate heavy metals from the brain. Lack of zinc can lead to heavy metals, such as lead and mercury, to accumulate in brain tissue and cause damage. Zinc also helps maintain cellular homeostasis of brain cells. This combination help prevent neurodegeneration and the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
#6 Support Female Reproductive Health and Fertility
In women, zinc is involved in the growth process of the oocyte or egg. When women are zinc deficient, the egg won’t mature properly and ovulation will be impeded, causing infertility.
Adequate zinc allows women to use estrogen and progesterone efficiently, supporting reproductive health. When estrogen becomes too high, or is inefficiently metabolized, it causes poor reproductive health and breast cancer.
#7 Support Male Reproductive Health and Fertility
Zinc is a critical mineral for robust testosterone levels. The cells of the male prostate require a very high concentration of zinc to work optimally. Low zinc in men impairs testosterone production, puts them at risk for developing prostate cancer, and causes infertility. Inadequate zinc causes low libido.
One study of 88 men aged 40 to 60 years found that low zinc was directly correlated with low testosterone levels. Men with low zinc were at greater risk of symptoms of male menopause.
Just as important, zinc is used to produce enzymes that initiate cell division, but the male prostate tissue requires ten times more zinc than other cells in the body to stay healthy. Adequate zinc in the prostate protects the cells from damage, inflammation, and cancer development. Also, once the prostate cells are damaged and become cancerous, they lack the ability to accumulate zinc, leading to greater propagation of cancer cells that produce tumors.
Researchers write that zinc is a “promising anti-cancer treatment” and that regular supplementation when men are healthy with no evidence of cancer is the best prevention. They also suggest zinc can prevent related cancers such as ovarian, breast, and colorectal.
#8 Prevent Cancer and Boost Immune Function
Ananda Prasad, a leading researcher in the field of zinc and health, notes that simply ensuring adequate zinc can benefit a number of the most severe health problems, especially cancer and poor immune function.
Low zinc plays a role in the development of most cancers since it is instrumental in healthy cell proliferation. Recent evidence links zinc deficiency to cancers of the breast, colon, ovaries, lungs, skin, and leukemia.
Zinc deficiency profoundly affects the immune system because low zinc produces a direct and rapid decline in T cell function. T cells ramp up the body’s immune system when viruses, bacteria, or challenges to health arise. Older people are at greater risk of zinc deficiency, which is not solely due to poor dietary intake. There’s evidence that a need for more zinc may increase with age to counter inflammation, support the immune system, and ensure healthy cell function.
#9 Improve Cardiovascular Health
Zinc is beneficial to maintain the health of cardiovascular cells. It supports the endothelium, the thin layer of cells that lines the blood vessels and plays a major role in circulation. Low zinc can cause a deficiency in the endothelial barrier, which leads to high cholesterol buildup and inflammation. Cholesterol and inflammation increase your risk of heart disease.
Studies show that poor zinc status can amplify the negative cardiovascular effects of a high-fat, high-cholesterol diet. Older adults are especially susceptible to inflammatory markers including C-reactive proteins and cytokines, which have been called “slow, silent killers.”
#10 Improve Metabolism and Prevent Diabetes
Zinc benefits how cells respond to hormones, including insulin. Adequate zinc plays at least three roles in insulin health. First, zinc binds to insulin so that insulin is adequately stored in the pancreas and released when glucose enters the blood stream.
Second, zinc improves cell health. It makes up a component of the enzymes necessary for insulin to bind to cells so that glucose can enter and be used as fuel.
Third, zinc has anti-inflammatory effects that help keep cells responsive to insulin. C-reactive and other inflammatory markers impair cells' ability to bind with insulin.
Which Groups Are At Greatest Risk of Low Zinc?
Zinc deficiency can occur from not eating enough zinc-rich foods. Meat, some seafood—oysters contain the largest concentration of all known foods—and dairy are high in zinc.
Whole grains and legumes contain zinc, but it is not well absorbed by the body. Plant foods contain phytates that make the zinc inaccessible to the body. Vegetarians are at greatest risk of zinc deficiency, but alcoholics and people with digestive issues or poor stomach acid are also highly susceptible.
Taking medications may produce zinc deficiency and low levels of almost all essential nutrients. Women on the birth control pill or hormone replacement therapy are at greater risk of deficiency.
Symptoms of Zinc Deficiency
Low zinc will produce an altered sense of taste leading to cravings of saltier, sweeter food. Diarrhea, low energy, chronic fatigue, infertility, poor immunity, bad memory, inability to focus, ADD symptoms, slow wound healing, nerve dysfunction, and ringing in the ears are other symptoms of zinc deficiency.
Symptoms may be present, but because they are so diverse and associated with other health conditions, it’s often hard to make the link to zinc deficiency without a zinc test.
How To Test Zinc Level
Before you start popping zinc at random, be aware there is an upper limit to dietary zinc. Zinc toxicity is dangerous to the reproductive and immune systems. Scientists suggest you perform a zinc test to measure your level and then supplement accordingly. Once you start taking zinc, your levels will rise and you should do another test six to eight weeks later for best results.
The best way to test your zinc level is to get a red blood cell zinc test and continually monitor zinc levels when supplementing. Other methods, such as a zinc taste test, provide another option. They tend to be less reliable, especially for people with moderate zinc deficiency.
When correcting a zinc deficiency or for immune support, you can take a zinc chelate, such as UberZinc that provides two forms of easily absorbable zinc. The chelates zinc orotate and zinc aspartate are used in the Krebs cycle to produce energy and offset fatigue. They also promote neurotransmitter balance to help overcome depression, anxiety, and stress.
For longer term supplementation, take zinc with copper. Zinc and copper work together in the antioxidant superoxide dismutase. Taking zinc by itself can deplete copper, leading to imbalances between dopamine and epinephrine.
Zinc Essentials provides the same zinc chelates as UberZinc as well as copper and selenium. These trace minerals work together to raise the body’s antioxidant defenses and support the immune response. Their impact on hormones and neurotransmitter balance makes them beneficial for overcoming anxiety, excess stress, depression, and fatigue.