The mineral zinc is needed for wound healing, muscle building, hair growth and much more. However, studies show that 50 per cent of the world's population does not consume enough zinc.

How to consume sufficient amounts of zinc for your skin, hair and immune system

No mineral has such a more powerful influence on the immune system, skin and hair than zinc. However, up to 50 per cent of the world's population does not consume enough of it.

What do reproduction, wound healing, muscle building and hair growth have in common? They all need the mineral zinc to function properly! Without zinc, hours of exercise in the gym would be a total waste of time, sperm production would be on the back burner and you would not grow any hair. But fortunately, zinc is present in every cell of your body - even if not in sufficient quantities for some people. 

What you can expect from this article:

Zinc: The mineral zinc fulfils numerous tasks: from hair growth to strengthening of the immune system. Zinc also enables us to see well!

Foods: The best sources of zinc include oysters, edam, chicken eggs and nuts. Our intestines can process zinc from animal foods better than from plant-based foods.

Causes for zinc deficiency: Sport, stress and chronic inflammatory bowel diseases lead to fluctuations in the zinc balance. Pregnant and breastfeeding women can also develop a zinc deficiency if they do not compensate their losses with an increased intake of zinc. People who consume only plant-based foods tend to consume insufficient amounts of zinc. 

Symptoms of zinc deficiency: If the body is not supplied with sufficient amounts of zinc, problems in wound healing and vision may occur. Zinc deficiency can also lead to diarrhoea and increased susceptibility to infection. 

Treatment for zinc deficiency: If a zinc deficiency has been diagnosed, you can change your diet or take zinc supplements

Zinc surplus: Too much zinc is harmful to the body! Higher amounts over a longer period of time lead to vomiting, diarrhoea and hair loss. An excess of zinc can also inhibit the absorption of other minerals. 

Zinc and colds: Whether zinc can actually alleviate a cold is not fully proven scientifically. But taking zinc may help reduce the time it takes to recover from a cold.

What is Zinc?

Zinc is indispensable for good health - it takes over tasks in every body cell. Since your body cannot produce the essential trace element itself, you have to consume it daily through food. The body contains a total of two to three grams of zinc. With 1.5 milligrams, your muscles store the largest proportion of it[1].

Good to know: On average, a person loses three to four milligrams of zinc daily via stool and urine. This is how the intestines and kidneys prevent a zinc surplus.[1, 2].

What effect does Zinc have on the body?

Wofür der Körper Zink braucht

As a so-called coenzyme (auxiliary molecule) zinc proves to be an allrounder. Zinc allows hair to grow and wounds to heal. After eating, it helps the pancreas produce insulin, which lowers blood sugar. Zinc also stimulates the production of testosterone and activates certain proteins to build muscle. If body cells are damaged, zinc supports cell division to create new cells. Zinc helps build our immune system and is therefore especially important in the first few years of life.[2, 3].

Together with the mineral selenium, zinc binds heavy metals such as lead, which accumulate in your body. The mineral and heavy metal form an insoluble complex in which the heavy metals lose their toxic effect. This way, minerals protect your body, especially the nerve cells, from damage caused by heavy metals.[3].

Did you know? If there was no zinc in your body, you would not be able to produce the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase. This enzyme breaks down alcohol. Without alcohol dehydrogenase every glass of wine consumed would lead to alcohol poisoning[4].

Zinc and your senses

A zinc deficiency can weaken the sense of smell. Some researchers suspect that zinc plays a role in itOur vision is also strongly dependent on zinc: The trace element supports the transport of vitamin A from the liver to the retina of the eye. Without vitamin A, our eyes could not perceive light, in other words, we would not be able to see[6, 7].

Zinc protects against alcohol poisoning

What is the daily requirement of zinc?

According to the recommendations of the German Nutrition Society, men should consume ten milligrams of zinc a day, while women should only consume seven milligrams. During pregnancy, the daily requirement increases to ten milligrams, as the mother supplies the unborn child with zinc and loses large quantities due to the strong urge to urinate. Breastfeeding mothers have an increased need of eleven milligrams, since they deliver zinc to their child via breast milk[8].

The American National Institutes of Health recommends a similar, only slightly higher zinc intake - eight milligrams per day for adult women and eleven milligrams for men and pregnant women.[9].

Which foods contain zinc?

Both animal and plant-based foods supply the body with zinc. However, animal products contain significantly more zinc on average. At the same time, your body can absorb zinc from animal foods much better than from plant-based foods[10].

Amount of zinc in milligrams per 100 grams

Foods

10-25 milligrams

Oysters; wheat germ, wheat bran

5-10 milligrams

Edam, Swiss Emmental, chicken eggs; pork liver, beef; sunflower seeds, linseed, soy flour, cocoa powder

2,5-5 milligrams

Tilsiter, Gouda, Parmesan;
Rye, wheat, barley, millet, oats, quinoa;
Pea, lentils, beans;
Brazil nut, peanut; walnut, chia seed;

Modified according to: "Food table for daily use; The little Souci expert Kraut".

Your small intestine cannot absorb 100 per cent of zinc from food. It absorbs 40 per cent from meat, milk and cheese, while the rate for vegetables and similar is 20 per cent [11].

Zinc deficiency - Causes

Zinc deficiency can be associated with various health problems and risks. Especially children have to be supplied with sufficient amounts of the mineral: A deficiency leads to diarrhoea and pneumonia - the most frequent causes of death among children under the age of five worldwide.[12–15].

Climate change could have a negative impact on our zinc supply: Due to the high carbon dioxide emissions, the zinc content of our food is said to have declined significantly. Plant-based and animal foods imported from Southeast Asia or South Africa also contain smaller amounts of zinc because the soil there is lower in zinc.

What are the causes of zinc deficiency?

If you sweat a lot, be it during exercise or in hot weather, you will lose a lot of zinc by sweating - you should compensate for these losses with a balanced diet. A vegetarian or vegan diet can also lead to a deficiency, as the small intestine absorbs less zinc from plant-based foods. If you suffer from a chronic inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease), the absorption of nutrients in the bowel is impaired. Permanent stress can also cause a zinc deficiency[9, 16].

Did you know that people with diabetes mellitus have a high risk of developing zinc deficiency? High blood sugar levels lead to frequent urination: poorly adjusted diabetics excrete much more zinc in their urine[9, 11].

Anti-nutrients in plant-based foods 

Although cereals, nuts and pulses also contain zinc, they also contain so-called anti-nutrients. They prevent the intestines from properly absorbing zinc. This group of substances includes[17]:

  • Phytate in wholegrain cereals (exception: sourdough bread)
  • Phosphate in cola, meat, fish
  • Histidine in dairy products
  • Oxalate in spinach, rhubarb, beetroot
  • Tannins in wine, black and green tea

Phytate forms insoluble complexes with zinc so that zinc cannot act in the body. In order to reduce the phytate content, you can soak grain several hours before preparation[4].

Good to know: The zinc requirement of people who eat a purely plant-based diet is increased by 50 percent. Vegetable foods contain the anti-nutrients, which is why they are less easily absorbed[9].

What are the symptoms of zinc deficiency?

Zinc works all over the body, so a deficiency will cause discomfort in all possible areas. If the body lacks zinc, your hair may fall out and your nails may become brittle. Additional symptoms are[4]:

  • Decelerated wound healing
  • Night blindness, impaired sense of smell
  • Fatigue, depressive moods
  • Increased susceptibility to infections, diarrhoea
  • Severe weight loss, muscle cramps
  • Erectile dysfunction

Zinc deficiency - Treatment

An optimal supply of zinc is a question of proper nutrition. You can control this if you know which foods contain zinc and which sources your body can absorb it from. It gets more complicated when it comes to consuming dietary supplements. There are big differences in the quality and consequently in how well the body absorbs the preparations.

Ganz wichtig: Greifen Sie erst zu Präparaten, wenn bei Ihnen nachweislich ein Zinkmangel besteht. Andernfalls besteht die Gefahr eines Zink-Überschusses[4]!

Very important: Do not use preparations until you have a verifiable zinc deficiency. Otherwise, you run the risk of a zinc surplus[4]!

Nutrients for better zinc absorption: 

Foods from which zinc is better absorbed

Animal proteins support the absorption of zinc. Together they form a complex that the body can utilize very well. Other nutrients that promote zinc absorption are[17]:

  • Histidine in almonds, peanuts, beef and pork
  • Methionine in quark, almonds, cod, mackerel, tuna fish
  • Cysteine in almonds, peanuts, beef and pork
  • Citric acid in apples, pears, berries and citrus fruits

     

Zinc preparations

If you have a proven zinc deficiency, zinc preparations may help. Zinc preparations can be found in every form imaginable: Effervescent tablets, powder, capsules, lozenges, drops or as ointments. What makes a good zinc preparation is not the type of preparation but the zinc compound it contains. Zinc only exists in combination with other substances which are supposed to improve zinc absorption.[7].

Important: In addition to the usual preparations you can also buy nasal sprays containing zinc. They are not recommended, however. These zinc nasal sprays can lead to a deterioration or in the worst case to a loss of your sense of smell[7].

Which zinc compound is the best one

Several studies suggest that the following zinc compounds have an optimized bioavailability[18–25]:

  • Zinc histidine - only compound with no known side effects
  • Zinc picolinate
  • Zinc bisglycinate
  • Zinc gluconate
  • Zinc sulfate - only effective when taken on an empty stomach

Bioavailability describes how well your body absorbs a nutrient and how well it can subsequently work in your body.[4].

Interactions

Minerals compete with each other and can prevent each other from entering the bloodstream through the small intestine. Zinc preparations can thus impair the effect of antibiotics, rheumatic drugs such as penicillamines and diuretics such as thiazide diuretics. Therefore, it is recommended to use zinc preparations a few hours before or after taking these medications.[7].

Zinc and Biotin

Zinc preparations are often added to biotin. This vitamin is also involved in hair growth, a biotin deficiency can lead to hair loss. Zinc also increases the activity of biotin, which is why it makes sense to take it together. Through your diet, you consume biotin in the form of wholegrain products, mushrooms and meat.[3].

The body cannot ingest any number of minerals at once because they interfere with each other's absorption. Therefore you should not take the following preparations at the same time: Iron, calcium and copper. Researchers have found that iron is not absorbed over a long period of time if large amounts of zinc are ingested at the same time.[11].

Zinc and dermatological disorders

Zinc is becoming very popular in dermatology (skin medicine). Dermatological studies have shown that zinc helps in the treatment of skin diseases such as warts, acne, rosacea and basal cell carcinoma. Zinc is used externally (topically), i.e. in the form of ointments and creams, or orally, i.e. as tablets.[13].

Even the cosmetics industry uses zinc: Sunscreens and anti-dandruff shampoos contain zinc as additional UV protection and to suppress dandruff. The mineral also reduces oil production in the skin. Oily skin is the ideal breeding ground for bacteria, which can lead to infections - especially if the immune system is weakened by a zinc deficiency.[26].

Good to know: Zinc ointments with zinc oxide can help with sunburn. Zinc oxide helps damaged skin regenerate[7]!

Zinc surplus

Not only a zinc deficiency represents a risk to your health. Too much zinc can also harm you. An upper limit of 25 milligrams of zinc per day is considered safe. If you exceed this limit for several days, you may already experience initial symptoms. This usually happens because of the consumption of too many dietary supplements - it is unlikely to absorb too much zinc through your diet[4].

If an amount between 225 and 450 milligrams is ingested at once, severe vomiting may occur. The possible consequences of excess zinc are gastrointestinal problems, kidney dysfunction, diarrhoea, hair loss and iron deficiency anaemia. Too much zinc hinders the absorption of iron, whereupon blood formation no longer takes place sensibly: Blood deficiency (anaemia) occurs.

The trace element of copper also loses its efficacy due to an excess of zinc. As a result of this copper deficiency, numbness and weakness occur in the limbs. The same applies to calcium and magnesium, with which zinc competes in the body: Calcium and magnesium deficiency can lead to bone loss, faulty stimulus transmission and significant performance weakness.[1, 3, 8, 27].

A zinc surplus can lead to a reduction of the HDL cholesterol. It is considered the healthy cholesterol. HDL cholesterol repairs damage to our cell membranes and removes the harmful LDL cholesterol that causes arteriosclerosis.[9].

Zinc poisoning can occur in people who use dental glue on a daily basis. It usually contains zinc. You should not use more than 1.5 grams of the paste per day[9]!

Zinc preparations and the common cold 

Effervescent tablet with zinc

Many companies advertise zinc as a miracle cure for colds. According to the promotional promises, it reduces annoying complaints such as a runny nose, sore throat and constant sneezing. One thing is clear: Your immune system cannot function without zinc. This is why it is assumed that the mineral can chase away your cold.

According to the German Nutrition Society (DGE), however, the study situation regarding zinc and its effect on colds is far from clear. The DGE advises to resort to zinc preparations for colds only if you have a proven zinc deficiency. A study conducted by the Cochrane Collaboration in 2012 found that 75 milligrams of zinc per day reduced the time taken to recover from a cold by one day. However, this only happened if the study participants took the drug within 24 hours of the onset of the first symptoms.[7, 28].

Zinc test

Both a zinc deficiency and a zinc surplus will pose problems for your health. However, you can counteract both by testing whether you have an optimal zinc supply. You can test your zinc levels with a blood test, for example.

How can I measure my zinc levels?

cerascreen Histamine intolerance test

You can also test your zinc levels yourself, for example with our cerascreen® mineral deficiency test. All you need is a small finger prick to fill a tube with a little bit of blood. Your sample will then be evaluated in our laboratory and you will receive a result report. It will tell you whether you have an undersupply and how best to maintain your levels[29].

Some suppliers measure the zinc levels by means of a hair analysis. A three-year study has concluded that this method can also provide information about the current mineral supply. Particularly in children who eat too little, this method has proved to be suitable for developing further therapeutic measures for them[30].

Zinc: At a glance

Which functions does zinc have?

Zinc is an essential mineral that is found everywhere in your body, but especially in your muscles. This mineral is important for cell division, wound healing, hair growth, blood sugar regulation and immune defense.

Which foods contain zinc? 

Oysters are particularly rich in zinc. Zinc from animal foods such as cheese, eggs and offal is better utilized by the human body than zinc from plant-based foods.

Who is particularly at risk of a zinc deficiency?

Athletes, pregnant and breastfeeding women, vegetarians and vegans as well as people with chronic inflammatory bowel diseases have an increased risk of low zinc levels. They either lose large amounts of zinc or their intestines cannot absorb it sufficiently.

What are the symptoms of a zinc deficiency? 

Hair loss, skin problems, diarrhea and slow wound healing are symptoms of zinc deficiency.

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