Zinc is one of the unsung heroes of the essential minerals. It is vital for the functioning of a multitude of enzymes within the body and plays a major role in immune system functioning. Zinc is considered "men's iron," where males require more zinc than women, much the way that women require more iron than men. The RDA for zinc is 11 mg daily for men, and 8 mg daily for women. Athletes may have an increased need for zinc, as it has a tendency to be lost through sweat. Also worth noting is that men may lose up to 1 mg of zinc per ejaculation, so frequent sexual activity may also necessitate increased zinc consumption. Zinc also should be in balance with copper consumption, where a 15:1 ratio of zinc:copper is seen as optimal. Excessive copper may cause a zinc deficiency and vice versa.

Functions

  • Nutrient metabolism
  • Collagen formation
  • Alcohol detoxification
  • CO2 elimination
  • Sexual maturation
  • Cell division and replication
  • Maintenance of sex hormone levels

Primary deficiency symptoms and diseases

  • Poor wound healing
  • Abnormal or suboptimal growth in children
  • Anorexia
  • Reduced taste and smell sensations
  • Impaired reproductive development
  • Reduced sex hormone levels

Food Sources

Sources of zinc are highly nuanced. Many rich sources of zinc do not contain nutrient inhibitors, but plant sources of zinc tend to have limited absorption due to phytates. It would be best to consume animal sources of zinc like shellfish and meat, but on a vegan or vegetarian diet, proper preparation of plant sources needs to be observed in order to maximize absorption.

  • Oysters (highest of any food measured)
  • Beef
  • Liver
  • Poultry
  • Whole grains (contain phytates)
  • Pumpkin seeds (contain phytates)

Supplementation

If there is one mineral to supplement, it would be zinc. A good zinc supplement can help to offset low consumption or the nutrient inhibition of plant sources, but should be taken alongside copper to reduce the chances of a deficiency. Zinc should always be taken with a meal to avoid nausea and vomiting. Lozenges containing zinc gluconate may help with respiratory infections like the common cold. Avoid excessive use as toxicity sets in at 100 mg per day and above. Zinc nasal sprays may cause permanent damage to olfactory senses (smell).

  • Zinc picolinate (best form)
  • Zinc gluconate (absorbed well in lozenges)
  • Zinc sulfate
  • Zinc chelate

Who Needs it Most?

  • Men (especially those who ejaculate frequently)
  • Athletes
  • Vegetarians and vegans
  • Those with low access to meats and seafood

Other Tips

  • A single serving of oysters can provide massive amounts of zinc and would offset the need for supplements, but subsequently increase the need for copper (which could be easily obtained through strawberries)
  • Nuts and seeds should be soaked and sprouted if they are to be used as a food source due to high phytate content