Zinc: For immune function, wound healing and fertility

All Woman

ZINC, a metallic essential trace element (meaning only small amounts are necessary for normal human health), is used in several systems and biological reactions for growth and maintenance of the human body.

Obstetrician-gynaecologist (ObGyn) Dr Anna-Kay Taylor Christmas said it is very important for immune function, wound healing, fertility and thyroid function.

Dr Taylor Christmas said high levels of zinc can be found in meats, seafood, particularly oysters, dairy, nuts, legumes and whole grains, and it is also available as a dietary supplement.

“The daily recommended value is 8mg per day for women and 11mg for men. Heating and cooking foods also decreases the zinc content, so it is best to eat zinc-rich foods raw when possible to maximise the zinc content. Other things that can negatively impact zinc levels include high alcohol intake, diarrhoea, pregnancy, high exercise levels and some chronic diseases like sickle cell, liver or kidney disease.”

Unfortunately, the ObGyn said mild deficiency tends to be common and is usually due to poor dietary intake. Low levels of zinc, Dr Taylor Christmas said, have also been implicated in other disorders such as acne; eczema; alopecia (hair loss); seborrheic dermatitis and xerosis (dry, scaly skin); poor eyesight; macular degeneration and blindness if severe; diarrohoea, which can then itself worsen the zinc deficiency in a self-perpetuating cycle; delayed growth; poor appetite and anorexia nervosa; depression; ADHD; schizophrenia and other behavioural abnormalities.

Dr Taylor Christmas pointed out that these conditions may have other causes which are then worsened by zinc deficiency. She however stressed the importance of ensuring zinc is adequately included in our diets because of its benefits.

According to Dr Taylor Christmas zinc is essential to:

1. Activate T cells

Dr Taylor Christmas said zinc is necessary to activate T cells, which are essential for regulating immune response and fighting infections and cancer. “Zinc deficiency therefore, may make one more susceptible to certain infections. It has also been found to decrease the severity and duration of the common cold when taken within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms,” she explained.

2. Heal wounds

“Persons who have chronic wounds or ulcers tend to have lower zinc levels. Topical zinc (in the form of creams or ointments) has been widely used to promote wound healing by decreasing inflammation and bacterial growth while promoting new skin formation. We commonly use it in the form of zinc oxide for diaper rash creams for example,” she said.

3. Fertility

The ObGyn explained that low levels of zinc in the blood are associated with low sperm quality and poor sperm production. She added that zinc is used in the process to form the outer membrane and tail of the sperm, so without it sperm cannot mature to gain the mobility required to fertilise an egg.

“Low zinc may also cause chromosomal abnormalities in the sperm, which can increase the risk for miscarriage even if conception does happen. Increasing zinc levels in infertile men has been found to improve the form, function and quality of sperm, and decrease male infertility. In women, zinc plays a vital role in egg formation, maintaining adequate follicular fluid for ovulation, and hormonal regulation. Maintaining normal hormone levels is crucial to a functioning menstrual cycle. Low levels of zinc may also be associated with increased risk of miscarriage in early pregnancy. Zinc may also affect the size and growth of fibroids, which can negatively affect fertility as well,” Dr Taylor Christmas said.

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