Zinc- an quintessential nutrient

September 16, 2020

Though it is a micronutrient, zinc is an essential mineral that has enormous health significance. It is required for aiding the activity of almost 300 of the body’s enzymes. Besides, it has tons of other physiological functions in the body which makes it of utmost importance for a healthy, disease-free life.

Zinc and health

Zinc is a major player in our body for optimum health because of its following roles :

1) Assisting the activity of enzymes involved with the metabolism of protein, carbohydrate, fat and alcohol

2) Assisting the activity of enzymes involved in cell division and the synthesis of DNA.

3) Assisting in protein synthesis

4) Assisting in the manufacture of Insulin

5) Proper functioning of the thyroid hormones

6) Tissue growth (connective tissue) and maintenance 

7) Wound healing

8) Sense of taste and smell

9) Improving immune system functioning and thereby immunity, 

10) Normal functioning and development of the brain help to enhance memory and improve   mental

11) Prostaglandin (Pgs) production (Pgs are active lipid compounds involved in controlling inflammation, infection, blood clot formation, etc.)

12) Bone mineralization

13) Transporting Vitamin A in blood

14) Fetal growth, sperm production, normal functioning of the prostate

15) Promoting the formation of collagen to make hair, skin and nails 

16) Regulating body fluid pH

Food sources

A wide variety of foods contain zinc. Fruits and vegetables, however, are poor providers of zinc. Red meat, lamb, pork, shellfish (oysters, crab, mussel and shrimp) are some of the foods containing excellent amounts of zinc followed by legumes (beans, chickpeas and lentils), seeds (flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, sesame seeds) and nuts (cashews, peanuts), eggs, whole grains (rice, oats, quinoa).

However, there are antinutritional substances (Phytates, Saponins, Tannins) in plant-based foods which interfere with zinc absorption and decrease its availability. Approximately 20-40% of consumed zinc is absorbed by the body, depending on the bioavailability in the actual food source (bioavailability of zinc from grains and plant foods is lower than that from animal foods).

Zinc deficiency and Causes 

Zinc is such a critical element in human health that even a small deficiency is a disaster. Zinc deficiency has been implicated as a factor in:

1) Loss of taste and smell

2) Growth retardation

3) Delayed mental and psychomotor development in young children

4) Impaired immune system function

5) Increased susceptibility to infectious disease in children (diarrhoea, Pneumonia, Malaria,) along with an age-related decline in immunity

6) Type 2 diabetes mellitus 

7) Age-related macular degeneration (AMD is a degenerative disease of the macula and a leading cause of blindness in people aged >65 years)

8) Alzheimer’s disease

9) Depression

10) Neonatal Sepsis

11) Birth Defects and low Birth Weight

12) Delayed Sexual Development

13) Diminished Wound Healing

14) Anorexia/ Loss of Appetite

15) Benign Prostatic Hypertrophy

16) Impotence

17) Some Hair, Nail and Joint conditions

18) Arthritic Problems

19) Skin Conditions such as Acne and Dermatitis

20) Defective bone mineralization

21) Weight Loss

22) Hypogonadism in Males

23) Lack of Sexual Development in females

24) Small Breasts in Females

25) Dwarfism

26) Delayed Puberty in Adolescents

These numerous symptoms of acquired zinc deficiency are a result of insufficient zinc in foods eaten or malabsorption problems like gastrointestinal disorders, chronic liver or kidney y resulting from disease, sickle cell anaemia, malignancy and other chronic illnesses. The availability of zinc is also hindered by something called nutrient interactions. Nutrients like iron, copper, calcium and folate can impair zinc absorption. 

Much of what is known about severe zinc deficiency was derived from a study of individuals born with acrodermatitis enteropathica, a genetic disorder resulting from the impaired zinc use in the body.

During the current corona pandemic, new therapeutic options against this viral disease are urgently desired. Due to its direct antiviral properties, and its role in preserving natural tissue barriers such as the respiratory epithelium, preventing pathogen entry and for a balanced function of the immune system, zinc administration can be beneficial for most of the population, especially those with low zinc status.


Zinc supplementation is a powerful therapeutic tool in managing a long list of illnesses because of inadequacy resulting from the diet. Moreover, the actual availability of zinc from food sources is limited. Providing zinc in the form of supplements becomes all the more important, if you’re someone who is already zinc deficient. Supplements contain several forms of zinc, including zinc gluconate, zinc sulfate, zinc acetate and zinc picolinate. The percentage of elemental zinc varies by form. Zinc is available as pills and lozenges in supplement form.

Oral zinc therapy results in the complete remission of symptoms in people with inherited zinc deficiency, though it must be maintained indefinitely.

Zinc toxicity

Zinc is an essential element and its requirement is widely known. However, increased absorption can cause malabsorption of iron and copper. Zinc is also present in some denture adhesive creams. Chronic, excessive use can lead to zinc toxicity, resulting in copper deficiency and neurologic disease.

We at iThrive can evaluate from your blood tests and determine if you are zinc deficient.


  1. http://bergenhelse.no/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/A-potential-medicinal-importance-of-zinc-in-human-health-and-chronic-disease.pdf
  2. https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/minerals/zinc 
  3. https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/137/4/1101/4664657 
  4. https://econtent.hogrefe.com/doi/abs/10.1024/0300-9831/a000262?journalCode=vit
  5. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/#:~:text=Zinc%20deficiency%20is%20characterized%20by,8%2C27%2C28%5D.
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3724376/
  7. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fimmu.2020.01712/full
  8. https://www.intechopen.com/books/nutritional-deficiency/zinc-deficiency-and-depression
  9. http://www.iosrjournals.org/iosr-jdms/papers/Vol13-issue7/Version-2/E013721823.pdf
  10. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/zinc/
  11. https://www.metabolics.com/blog/a-practitioners-guide-to-zinc-supplements
  12. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/nure.12105 
Ria Jain
Functional Nutritionist

Ria has a Master’s in Nutrition and Dietetics and is in a permanent research mode and keeps the rest of us at iThrive (Previously ThriveFNC) updated with her latest findings in the field of Nutrition. Her articles on iThrive's blog are an expression of her research findings. We really don’t know what we’d do without her support and her focus.

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