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Importance of Zinc in the Body

By Melodie Anne

Zinc plays a role in several metabolic functions as well as immune function. Minerals such as zinc are inorganic elements naturally occurring in the earth. Zinc is available in many foods or as a dietary supplement. You can get zinc in your diet by consuming plant foods, since they naturally absorb zinc from soil and water. Animals also get zinc in their bodies when they consume plants. You can get zinc indirectly by consuming certain animal foods. If you decide to take a dietary supplement, inform your physician as a precaution.

Dosage of Zinc

Women need 8 milligrams of zinc daily, while men need up to 11 milligrams. If you are pregnant, your body requires 11 milligrams, and breastfeeding requires an intake of 12 milligrams. Zinc can be toxic if you consume more than 40 milligrams daily. Acute zinc toxicity occurs when you consume a large amount of zinc at once. This can cause gastrointestinal distress such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and cramping. Chronic zinc toxicity happens when you ingest large amounts, more than 150 milligrams, over an extended period of time. This type of toxicity can lead to decreased iron function, problems absorbing other nutrients and diminished immune function.

Immune Function

Your body needs zinc to make T-lymphocytes, or T-cells, a type of white blood cell that fights off foreign invaders in your bloodstream. Having low levels of zinc may leave you more susceptible to pneumonia or other infections. Zinc is a common treatment for the common cold. While it most likely does not cure colds, it can help relieve symptoms by reducing inflammation in the nasal cavity. Additionally, zinc aids in wound healing by maintaining skin and mucous membranes, possibly preventing your risk of chronic leg ulcers.

Metabolic Role

Proteins and cell membranes rely on zinc for proper function. A structure known as the zinc finger motif stabilizes several different proteins, explains the Linus Pauling Institute. In order for copper to act like an antioxidant, zinc must provide the structural support. Together, they form copper-zinc superoxide dismutase, which helps fight off free radicals so your cells are not susceptible to damage.

Zinc in the Diet

Eating certain foods increases your zinc intake. A 3-ounce serving of beef provides around 9 milligrams; Alaskan king crab contains 6.5 mg; pork shoulder has 4.2 milligrams; and lobster provides 2.5 milligrams per 3-ounce. serving. Dairy foods are also rich in zinc. One cup of yogurt contains 1.6 milligrams; a 1-ounce. slice of Swiss cheese contains 1.1 milligrams; and an 8-ounce glass of milk provides 0.9 milligrams. Certain plant sources are full of zinc. Chickpeas provide 1.3 milligrams in 1/2 cup; 1 ounce of almonds provides 1 milligrams; and 1/2 cup of kidney beans contains 0.8 milligrams.

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