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Health Advisor

08 September 2015

Why do we need zinc?

Zinc is distributed throughout the brain, kidneys, muscles and eyes, and in men, the prostate gland. It is directly involved in cell division, helping to make new cells, and keep enzymes working at their optimum.

It is thought to play a role in brain function, helping to keep the brain alert and responsive to learning. It is thought to prevent heavy metals from accumulating in the brain, helping to prevent degeneration of cells, and reducing risk of conditions such as Alzheimer’s.

Zinc plays an important role in male prostate health. This is because the prostate cells require zinc to work at their optimum, needing approximately ten times more zinc than other cells in the body. It is vital for the correct balance of the male hormone testosterone.

A large quantity of zinc is stored in the eyes. It works together with vitamin A to ensure the health of the retina, helping the eyes to sense light, and reducing risk of certain age-related eye conditions, such as macular degeneration.

Natural sources of zinc

A healthy balanced diet should provide you with all the zinc you require. The average adult man requires 5.5-9.5mg daily, while adult women need 4-7mg each day, though it is thought that up to 25mg can be taken without side-effects. Foods high in zinc include dairy foods, meat and shellfish.

Food source Zinc content (milligrams, mg)
Oyster, 100g 78.6
Wheat Germ, 100g 16.7
Beef, 100g 12.3
Pumpkin seeds, 100g 10.3
Cashew nuts, 100g 5.6
Mussels, 100g 2.6
Ricotta cheese, 125ml 1.8
Eggs, 2 1.3


Zinc deficiency

The majority of zinc is stored inside cells, which means that blood tests to measure levels of zinc are notoriously inaccurate. Initially zinc deficiency presents few symptoms, though it can result in reduced growth, skin and eye lesions and reduced immune function.

Though mild zinc deficiency is a widespread occurrence, severe deficiency is rare and generally only occurs in those who have a genetic condition which prevents zinc from being effectively absorbed. Deficiency is treated through increasing the intake of zinc in the diet, or through supplementation under supervision of a medical professional.

Too much zinc

Consuming too much zinc is more likely to occur by taking high doses of zinc supplements than it is through diet. Initially, too much zinc may cause stomach pain, nausea and loss of appetite.

However, taking excessive amounts of zinc supplements over a longer period of time can result in dizziness, shortness of breath and chest pain. As high doses of zinc reduce the body’s ability to absorb copper, taking too much zinc can lead to copper deficiency and weakening of the bones.


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