In today’s “new normal,” immune-boosting zinc is getting its fair share of attention.
Zinc is the second most abundant essential mineral in the body (behind iron),” says Dr. Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S., D.C., founder of Ancient Nutrition and member of The Vitamin Shoppe Wellness Council. “It’s found in every cell and over 300 enzymes in the body require it in order to function.”
In addition to protein synthesis (the process in which the cells make protein), zinc plays a role in supporting healthy growth and development, which makes it especially important during pregnancy, childhood, and adolescence. .
The recommended daily amount of zinc is eight milligrams per day for adult women and 11 for adult men, but certain groups of people are prone to falling short, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Are you getting your fill of this essential nutrient? Look out for these signs you need more zinc.
1. Your skin is acting up
If you’re experiencing frequent breakouts, it’s possible you’re zinc deficient. One study published in the journal Cutaneous and Ocular Toxicology linked lower zinc levels with an increase in acne.
“Zinc has immune-supporting functions for healthy tissues—including skin tissue,” says Axe. “If your skin isn’t performing as it should, then it’s worth discussing with your healthcare professional or dermatologist whether zinc may help.”
2. You get sick often
In order to have a healthy immune system, your body needs zinc. “Even a mild zinc shortfall can affect cells that support healthy immune function—including macrophages, neutrophils, T cells, and B cells,” Axe says.
“When these immune cells don’t function optimally, the immune system isn’t at its best,” he explains. This can lead to increased susceptibility to colds, the flu, and other illnesses. In fact, studies have found that zinc plays a significant role in preventing and treating the common cold. So, one of the most common signs you need more zinc is falling under the weather often.
3. Your vision seems shoddy
Among zinc’s many benefits: It’s important for your peepers. In fact, the nutrient is highly concentrated in the eyes. “Zinc makes sure vitamin A reaches the retina and produces melanin, a health-promoting pigment in the eyes,” explains Axe. “It also supports the health of the cells in the area on the back of your eye called the macula, which is essential for central vision.”
4. Your taste and smell Are off
Zinc also plays a role in most of our senses, including taste and smell. In fact, zinc deficiency can cause difficulty tasting the flavors of food, Axe says. “For those individuals, some research suggests that getting zinc levels up can help.”
5. You’re having fertility issues
While there are a number of reasons why a couple may have trouble getting pregnant, one possibility is a zinc deficiency (in either partner). In fact, recent research published in Journal of Reproduction & Infertility highlights a relationship between zinc intake and sperm quality.
“Zinc also positively affects male reproductive health via the development, metabolism, and release of sex hormones,” says Axe. “For women, zinc increases the conversion of the fatty acid gamma-linolenic acid into prostaglandin E1, which balances the effects of prolactin, a hormone that helps regulate the menstrual cycle.”
How To Up Your Zinc Intake
If any of these signs you need more zinc sound familiar, your first step is speaking with your healthcare provider, who might recommend a shift in your diet.
If you eat mostly plant-based foods, you’re potentially lacking in zinc, since its richest sources are animal foods, such as beef, poultry, and certain types of seafood like oysters, crab, and lobster. That said, you can also find zinc in beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, dairy, and fortified grains, says The Vitamin Shoppe nutritionist Brittany Michels, R.D.N.
If you eat mostly plant-based, or are simply not a fan of many zinc-containing foods, be sure to take a multivitamin, which provides a baseline serving of zinc.
Single-source zinc supplements are another option, explains Michels. They are best suited for those at risk for deficiency, but can also be taken in slightly higher short-term doses for immune support, she says.
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