A to Zinc: A handy guide

A to Zinc

Acne: Zinc is an important component for healthy skin, and in particular for sufferers of acne. It can control the production of oil in the skin and help balance some of the hormones that can lead to acne. Many skin disorders can be attributed to insufficient zinc.

Bioavailability: The bioavailability of zinc from grains and plant foods is lower than that from animal- based foods such as lean red meat and poultry, although many grain and plant-based foods are still good sources of zinc.

Common Cold: Much research has been done around zinc and its capacity to combat the common cold. Although studies examining zinc treatment on cold symptoms has shown varied results over years, it appears to be beneficial under certain circumstances. The Cochrane Report concluded that taking it within 24 hours of developing symptoms and has been shown to reduce the severity and duration of cold symptoms in healthy people by up to a third. It does this by directly inhibiting the rhinovirus binding and replicating and suppressing inflammation.

Depression: Virtually every enzyme reaction in the brain involves zinc, and low levels have been linked to anxiety and depression.

Eyesight: Research has suggested that zinc and antioxidants may delay the progression of age- related macular degeneration and vision loss, possibly by preventing cellular damage in the retina.

Food sources: Lean red meat is an excellent dietary source, and it is also highly bioavailable, meaning your body can absorb it much more readily. Poultry, nuts, seeds, and lentils are other good sources. Green leafy vegetables and fruits contain modest amounts of zinc.

Grains: Wholegrain breads, cereals and other grains contain zinc, but these foods also contain phytates, which can bind zinc and therefore inhibit its absorption. While these plant-based options are good dietary sources, the bioavailability is often lower than animal-based products.

Hair loss: In severe cases zinc deficiency can cause hair loss and a dry flaky scalp.

Immune system: Zinc is needed for the proper functioning of the immune system, and enables protein synthesis and cell growth.

Job: Zinc is often seen as the gatekeeper for your immune system, to ward off bacterial and viral infections like the common cold.

Kids: Zinc supports normal growth and physical development during pregnancy, and this continues through childhood and adolescence.

Low zinc content in our soils: Plants, like our bodies, cannot make minerals. They instead extract them from the soil. Like many other mineral and trace elements, if they are lacking in the soil they will be lacking in the plants we eat or the animals that are grazing the fields and providing our much-need protein. If certain crops aren’t rotated, it can seriously deplete the soils of these minerals, leading to deficiencies in our diet.

Magnesium: Both zinc and magnesium help protect the brain and the eyes from excitotoxin additives that are common in foods today. In New Zealand, deficiency of both of these minerals is common due to soil depletion.

Nutrients: As well as being involved in hundreds of processes within the body, zinc helps us absorb and utilise nutrients from our food.

Oysters: Oysters contain more zinc per serving than any other food.

RDI for zinc is higher for pregnant and lactating women.

Pregnant women: Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers may require bigger intakes, as there are high foetal requirements for zinc, and lactation can also rapidly deplete mineral stores. For these reasons, the RDI for zinc is higher for pregnant and lactating women, and supplementation is often recommended.

Quote: “Just about all skin disorders improve if you build up your zinc stores.” Dr Robert Atkins

RDI (Recommended Daily Intakes): Common RDIs for zinc are as low as 5mg for a child, 7mg for a teenage girl, 13mg for a teenage boy. For adult woman it is 8mg, increasing to 12 mg when breastfeeding or pregnant, and 14mg for adult males.

Stress: There is evidence that zinc levels decrease following physical stress or injury. It is one of the few minerals lost in the urine following acute or chronic physical stress.

Taste test: There is a simple test you can take to measure your zinc status, which can often be provided by your local health shop. It involves taking a tiny amount of zinc sulphate, dissolving it in water and then tasting as little as a spoonful. This test works because zinc is required for your taste buds to function. If you notice a bitter, astringent taste you are not deficient. If this bitter taste is delayed by more than a few seconds, you need more zinc in your diet. If there is a much longer delay or if you don’t notice the bitterness or it tastes like water, you may have a deficiency and will need to restore your zinc levels.

Ultimate nutrient: Zinc is responsible for hundreds of processes within our brain and our body, and is one of the most important minerals for our health throughout our life. There are more roles in the body for zinc than any other nutrient.

Vegetarians often require as much as 50% more of the RDI for zinc.

Vegetarians: Vegetarians often require as much as 50% more of the RDI for zinc than non-vegetarians. Zinc can be sourced from whole-grain breads, cereals, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes, but these foods also contain phytates, which can bind zinc and therefore inhibit its absorption. While these plant-based options are good dietary sources, the bioavailability is often lower than animal- based products.

Vitamin C: With the help of vitamin C, zinc has been used in research into improving age-related macular degeneration (AMD). After an average follow-up period, supplementation with antioxidants plus zinc (but not antioxidants alone) significantly reduced the risk of developing advanced AMD and reduced visual acuity loss.

Wound healing: Zinc is critical for wound healing, whether it is a small cut, or helping the skin recover from surgical procedures. It also helps prevent scar formation.

EXcessive zinc: A over-large intake of zinc may result in side effects with symptoms ranging from mild to severe. Intake of 50 to 150 milligrams per day of supplemental zinc may cause minor intestinal distress occurring within three to 10 hours after ingestion. Single doses of 225 to 450 milligrams of zinc usually cause nausea and induce vomiting.

Yellow fungus growth on toenails: Many skin disorders are related to insufficient zinc, including abdominal stretchmarks after childbirth, split fingernails with white specks, as well as yellow toenails and/or fungus growth.

Zinc: There are more roles for zinc than any other nutrient. It is one of the most important elements for our health yet one of the most deficient in our diet, especially here in New Zealand. This is due to the quality of our soils and the impact of the foods we eat, and the water we drink.

Why is Zinc essential?

Why is Zinc essential?

There are more roles for zinc than any other nutrient. It is one of the most important elements for our health, yet one of the most deficient in our diet, especially here in New Zealand.

The chronic lack of zinc in Aotearoa is due to the quality of our soils and the impact of the foods we eat, and the water we drink.

Here’s an overview of the critical roles this mineral plays in our bodies. Also see our handy guide: A to Zinc.

Zinc’s Role

Zinc is involved in hundreds of processes within the body, and it helps us absorb and utilise nutrients from our food.

It plays a role in immune function, helping repel and overcome bacterial and viral infections like the common cold. It assists with growth development, protein and DNA synthesis, and is effective in wound healing.

Zinc is essential for the brain and neurological function as well as the maintenance of vision, taste and smell. It nourishes the scalp and helps maintain strong and healthy gums, hair, skin and nails. It can help avoid hair loss, which can be a symptom that you may be deficient. Zinc can control the production of oil in the skin and help balance some of the hormones that can lead to acne. Many skin disorders can be attributed to insufficient zinc.

Zinc is important to our health and wellbeing throughout our life. It supports normal growth and physical development during pregnancy, and this support continues through childhood and adolescence.

There is almost no part of the body that zinc doesn’t benefit, either inside or out.

It is key to both male and female reproductive health and is vital as we grow older, as it helps maintain bone density and muscle bulk.

However, zinc can be harder to access through diet for both women and men as they age, as the body doesn’t have the ability to store minerals. New Zealand surveys have shown that 52% of middle-aged men aren’t getting enough zinc each day, and that figure increased to 90% for men aged over 70.

Zinc has been shown to reduce the severity and duration of cold symptoms.

Zinc and the Common Cold

Much research has been done around zinc and its capacity to combat the common cold. Although studies examining zinc treatment on cold symptoms have shown varied results over years, it appears to be beneficial under certain circumstances.

The Cochrane Report concluded that taking it within 24 hours of developing symptoms has been shown to reduce the severity and duration of cold symptoms in healthy people by up to a third. It does this by directly inhibiting the rhinovirus binding and replicating and suppressing inflammation.

More research is needed to determine the optimal dosage, formulation and duration of treatment before a recommendation for zinc in the treatment of the common cold can be made.

Some of us need zinc more than others.

Studies have shown that New Zealand men have lowered zinc status, especially as they age. Men require an RDI of 14mg just to prevent deficiency.

Several New Zealand studies have suggested that many adolescent girls aren’t getting enough zinc and this may be affecting their growth and development. This could be due to changing diets, less red meat and seafood being consumed, as well as the prevalence of processed foods, which are often refined and lacking minerals and other nutrients.

Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers also require bigger intakes, as there are high foetal requirements for zinc, and lactation can also rapidly deplete mineral stores. Breast milk provides enough zinc (RDI 2mg) for baby for the first six months, but zinc needs to be acquired from food sources as the child grows. Supplementation of zinc has been shown to improve the growth and development of some children who have exhibited a mineral deficiency.

Zinc has limited storage capacity with our body, so a deficiency can develop quickly if we’re not restoring and replenishing.

Diagnosing Deficiency

Blood tests are not a reliable method for detecting zinc deficiency as most of the zinc in our bodies is retained in our cells rather than in our blood. However, there is a simple test you can take to measure your zinc status, which can often be provided by your local health shop.

It involves taking a tiny amount of zinc sulphate, dissolving it in water and then tasting as little as a spoonful. This test works because zinc is required for your taste buds to function.

If you notice a bitter, astringent taste you are not deficient. If this bitter taste is delayed by more than a few seconds, you need more zinc in your diet. If there is a much longer delay or if you don’t notice the bitterness or it tastes like water, you may have a deficiency and will need to restore your zinc levels.

In this case, you may already be experiencing some common symptoms of a low zinc status such as frequent colds or infections, weak sense of smell and taste, hair loss, slow wound healing or skin disorders and inflammation.

You may be advised to supplement with zinc for a period and look to include more zinc-rich foods in your diet, such as lean red meat, dairy, seafood, poultry, or whole-grains, beans and legumes.

Getting Zinc into Your Daily Diet

The best source of zinc is rock oysters, which contain significantly more zinc than red meat and grains but are often not a regular part of our diet. Fats, which contain very little zinc, also tend to dilute zinc from the diet.

Lean red meat is an excellent dietary source, and it is also highly bioavailable, meaning your body can absorb it much more readily. Green leafy vegetables and fruits contain modest sources of zinc.

There is almost no part of the body that zinc doesn’t benefit, either inside or out.

Some animal-free options include whole-grain breads, cereals, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes, but these foods also contain phytates, which can bind zinc and therefore inhibit its absorption. While these plant-based options are good dietary sources, the bioavailability is often lower than animal- based products.

Vegetarians often require as much as 50% more of the RDI for zinc than non-vegetarians.

Note that techniques such as soaking beans and grains in water for several hours can reduce this binding of zinc by phytates and thus increase bioavailability.Vegetarians often require as much as 50% more of the RDI for zinc than non-vegetarians.

Studies from New Zealand nutrition surveys and overseas research suggest most of us are accessing only half of the daily zinc we require from our diet.

Zinc Deficiency Inhibits Absorption

Once you become zinc deficient, it can be very difficult to improve zinc levels purely through food alone, as your body’s absorption often depends on having enough zinc in the first place.

In addition, if you are recovering from an operation, have suffered emotional stress, or been over-exercising, your body will look to use all the available zinc on offer in an effort to heal. Zinc is one the few minerals lost rapidly in the urine after suffering acute psychological stress.

Gastrointestinal surgery and digestive disorders such as Crohn’s disease can decrease zinc absorption. Other illnesses associated with zinc deficiency include chronic liver disease, alcoholic cirrhosis, anorexia nervosa, chronic renal disease, diabetes, malignancy and sickle cell disease. Diarrhoea can also lead to excessive loss.

Supplementation may then be required to achieve good zinc status and you will then be able to maximise your zinc from food sources once again.

Summary

While we should be getting our important vitamins, minerals and other nutrients from the food we eat, there are often factors that prevent this from happening.

Soil depletion, the prevalence of processed food and bouts of illness can lead to mineral deficiencies that prevent the nutrients reaching the cells in our body and enabling the hundreds of processes that keep us healthy.

It is important to be aware of some simple things we can do to restore and replenish these minerals, to maintain optimal levels and supplement when needed to avoid larger health problems.

References:
Coory, David. Stay Healthy by supplying what’s lacking in your diet. 1992
Schauss, Alexander G. Minerals, Trace Elements, & Human Health. Life Sciences Press. 1995
Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper,
Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium, and Zinc. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2001
Singh M, Das RR. Zinc for the common cold. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011
Prasad AS. Zinc deficiency: its characterization and treatment. Met Ions Biol Syst 2004

Remineralise: Put back what’s missing

Woman drinking water with Skybright Concentrated Mineral Drops added.

Remineralise – and put back what’s missing from our food.

Over the past few months, many of us have taken the chance to evaluate our lifestyle and our health and wellbeing, especially with regard to strengthening our immune system and enhancing our ability to fight off infections during the winter months.

Getting enough sleep, exercising often and eating a balanced, whole-food diet are all important factors in nurturing our health, for both mind and body. But often we’re lacking important minerals, that are not present in either the foods we eat, or in the water we drink. 

This is due to intensive farming techniques, which strip these minerals from the soil in which our food grows. If the minerals are not in the soils in the first place, they will not be present in the plants and therefore in the food we eat. Many of us drink filtered or bottled water, which removes the essential minerals and trace elements we need, as well as unwanted pathogens and toxins that make it safe for drinking.

These practices can lead to mineral deficiencies, which then lead to common complaints such as fatigue, irregular heartbeat, depression, and sleep issues. This also ultimately compromises our immune system, and makes us vulnerable to infections and illnesses.

Skybright Remineralise: we need to put back the minerals and vitamins that are missing from our food.
Remineralise: we need to put back the minerals and vitamins that are missing from our food.

The importance of minerals.

In today’s modern, fast-paced society, supplying our bodies with the minerals they require is difficult. The lives we lead often put increasing demands on our stores of the nutrients. The harder we push ourselves, the more we need. In times of stress, our body uses more vitamin B, vitamin C and magnesium and zinc in particular.

Minerals such as such as magnesium, potassium, iodine and selenium are the catalysts for all the vitamins and other nutrients your body uses for developing and maintaining good health.

Every second of every day the human body relies on these minerals and other trace elements to conduct and generate billions of tiny electrical impulses. Without these impulses, not a single muscle, including your heart, or your brain would be able to function.

Think of your body like a circuit board. Ionic minerals conduct electricity throughout the body, bringing energy where it needs to go in order for each cell and system to work. Without these minerals, your heart couldn’t beat, your muscles couldn’t contract, your brain couldn’t function and your body couldn’t absorb nutrients.

The human body cannot produce minerals like calcium and magnesium as they cannot be made by living organisms. We have to obtain them from the food we eat, or the water we drink. Obtaining them from water is optimal, as it helps with the bioavailability of these minerals, enabling them to be more effectively absorbed into our system. 

“Soil is the basis of all human life and our only hope for a healthy world… all of life will be healthy or unhealthy according to the fertility of the soil”

Dr. Alexis Carrel, (1873-1944) winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1912

New Zealand soils and mineral deficiencies.

As a country, New Zealand is still very young, and it has young soils. Where once they were rich in nutrients, our agriculture and farming over the years has stripped the topsoil of important trace minerals and elements. 

With the use of common fertilisers, there has been an increase in the growth rate of foods and an increase in yields, but we’ve also seen a steady decline in the nutritional value of the foods we eat over the past decades. This has lead to well-known deficiencies in our soils, including selenium, iodine, zinc, chromium and boron. 

Up to 91% of New Zealanders are said to be deficient in iodine, an essential trace element that supports energy production and plays an important role in supporting immune function. The biggest groups at risk are pregnant mothers and people with autoimmune issues. You can get iodine from seaweed or miso soup or by simply adding sea salt to your drinking water or sprinkling it onto your food. 

Selenium levels are also low in New Zealand soils. It’s estimated that many of us are only getting as little as 10-20% of the daily amount we require. Selenium is an antioxidant and also supports immune system function, as well as reproductive health, mood, thyroid function and cardiovascular health. Often supplementation is required but you can get it from eating beef, fish or a few brazil nuts.

Zinc is an important trace mineral, especially in New Zealand due to soil depletions. It’s a a powerful antioxidant, and great for skin, eye and hair health. Seafood is a rich source of zinc, as well as red meat. Studies suggest that supplementing with zinc may have the potential to improve immunity in the elderly, and in healthy individuals with marginal zinc deficiencies, supplementation can enhance the immune response, and may reduce the length of the common cold.

Producers are paid on the weight of their produce rather than how mineral rich the vegetables and fruit are. The processing of foods, such as peeling, extracting, heat-treating and early picking for storage and transportation across the country can further diminish the nutrient value in the foods we eat.

Until we are able to put trace minerals back into the soil through regenerative agriculture and sustainable farming, we must look to other methods to obtain the full spectrum of minerals and trace elements that we need for optimal human health.

In our efforts to drink ‘pure water’ this filtration eliminates the harmful substances, but also removes the important trace elements and minerals we need every day.

The water we drink.

Water can and should be a significant source of trace minerals and elements that can maintain our health and wellbeing. 

With concerns about the quality of public water supply in some areas of New Zealand, we often resort to drinking bottled water or filtered water, (reverse osmosis, distilled) which can eliminate virtually every mineral the body requires to maintain good health. In our efforts to drink ‘pure water’ this filtration eliminates the harmful substances, but also removes the important trace elements and minerals we need every day. Reverse osmosis water filters can also harbour harmful bacteria if not adequately maintained.

We need to remineralise.

Eating a plant-rich diet, while essential for good health, isn’t enough on it’s own to provide you with all the minerals and nutrients you need, as modern farming has stripped the soils of its mineral content. This has lead to significant deficiencies across the population which are increasing with our modern lifestyles, added to the prevalence of processed and convenience foods, and an ageing population.

Eat organic and seasonal where you can, eat leafy greens with every meal or at least daily. Grow your own if you have the space at home or shop at local farmers markets to ensure freshness as well as supporting the local producers and economy. 

We are all aware of the need to reduce, reuse and recycle, but with regard to nutrition, we need to rebalance, replenish and remineralise. Minerals and trace elements are vital to our everyday health and wellbeing. We need them to strengthen our immune system, stave off infections and feel more energised.

Adding minerals like sea salt or liquid mineral drops which contain more than 70 minerals and trace elements to your drinking water may be the best place to start to feel good and get back into balance. These little changes are easy to implement into your daily routine and can make a big difference to your health.

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Sources:
Schauss, Alexander G. Minerals, Trace Elements, & Human Health. Life Sciences Press. 1995
Heinerman, Dr. John. The Uses of Trace Minerals and Elements Found in Concentrace®. 2001
Lauritzen, Rhonda. Minerals and Immune Function. MRI, 2020
Lauritzen, Rhonda. Trace Mineral Deficiency – 9 Facts You Need to Know. MRI, 2020