Zinc is an essential element for all organisms. The human body’s growth is strictly dependent on the levels of zinc and is a critical element in the development of the nervous, immune as well as the reproductive system. Decreased levels of zinc can even affect the body’s metabolism. Let’s take a look into this article and go through the benefits zinc has to offer.
Zinc is a chemical element which has the atomic number 30, is represented as Zn, and is the first element of the 12th group of the periodic table. Zinc exhibits a +2 oxidation state and is the 24th most abundant element in the Earth’s crust. Zinc has 5 stable isotopes and it is obtained from an ore known as Zinc Sphalerite. Zinc is obtained from the ore by a process known as froth flotation. Post froth flotation, it is subjected to roasting and the final process includes electrowinning.
Zinc and the Human Body
Zinc is an important element for the human body – around 2-5 grams of zinc is circulated into the body. Most concentrations of zinc are resident in the prostate as well as parts of eyes and other areas like the brain, muscles, bones, kidney and liver. Human semen is particularly rich in zinc, which is significant for prostate gland function and reproductive organ growth.
Zinc and the Immune System
Human immune system is affected by low as well as high concentration of Zinc. The bond between zinc and the human system is complex and zinc affects the immune system due to these 4 factors:
- The dietary intake and reabsorption of zinc is dependent on the diet composition as well as age and health status of the individual.
- Zinc is a major cofactor for over 300 enzyme actions that influence organs and their functioning that have a secondary effect on the immune system.
- Zinc directly affects the production, growth and function of Leucocytes.
- Zinc is influential in the functioning of immunostimulants.
The Action of Zinc on Specific Immune Cells
Zinc deficiency has multiple effects on the immune system. Let’s relate Zinc and its action on various immune cells.
Studies carried out on bovine, porcine, rat, murine systems as well as certain zinc deficient children has shown that there is a substantial reduction in the size of thymus that is the central organ for T lymphocytes production. The studies drew reference carefully after monitoring the dosages of zinc to make them deficient. A diet deficient is zinc was given to mice for a period of 2 weeks and there was a moderate decrease in the thymic involution. After 4 weeks, it was observed that the thymus was a quarter of its original size on a zinc deficit diet.
B-Lymphocytes are developed in the bone marrow and is adversely affected due to zinc deficiency. Lymphocytes antibody responses are inhibited by zinc deficiency. The gross effects of zinc deficiency on B-Lymphocytes mitogen and plague forming responses have been observed. Zinc is an essential constituent for B lymphocyte mitogenic and cytokine response to lipopolysaccharide.
It was also observed that in vitro antibody production that is determined by PFC assay was strongly inhibited in splenic B lymphocytes from zinc-deficient mice.
It also has to be noticed that T Lymphocytes are mostly affected than any other Lymphocyte in case of zinc deficiency.
Patients and animals patients with acrodermatitis enteropathica and other types of zinc deficiency have altered levels of Polymorphonuclear leukocyte function. In most cases, absolute numbers of peripheral polymorphonuclear leukocytes were not affected, but chemotactic responses were impaired and were reversible by in vitro addition of zinc.
Natural Killer Cells
Studies carried out on humans and animals have shown that low levels of zinc decreased the activity of natural killer cells.
Monocytes & Macrophages
On a zinc deficient diet, effects on monocytes & macrophages have been observed. Patients suffering from acrodermatitis enteropathica had supressed levels of monocytes which could eventually be restored by zinc.
Zinc as a Supplement
Zinc deficiency can be due to insufficient dietary intake and can lead to malabsorption, acrodermatitis enteropathica, chronic liver disease, chronic renal disease, sickle cell disease, diabetes, malignancy, and other chronic illnesses. People who are usually affected with zinc deficiency are elders and children.
As zinc is so highly involved in a healthy lifestyle, it forms an integral part of dietary supplement pills like multi-vitamin tablets and ZMA. Zinc exists in more than one form and they are zinc oxide, zinc acetate and zinc gluconate.
Zinc supplements ideally should only be taken when there is deficiency of zinc.
The RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) is 8 mg per day for women and is 11 mg per day for men.
Dietary Zinc Sources
Zinc is abundant in red meat as well as lobsters and oysters. Plant sources include wheatgerm, bran and seeds like sesame, poppy, celery and mustard. Zinc is also present in beans, nuts, almonds, whole grains, pumpkin seeds & sunflower seeds.