Minerals of life – zinc
Zinc is one of the minerals of life found extensively in the body. It is an essential trace element. It is referred to as a trace element because it is required in very small amounts in all its functions in the body. Zinc is another ubiquitous mineral in the body. This combined with the small amounts needed for it to function, makes me to refer to it as “small but mighty.” Zinc has been said to be chemically similar to magnesium and together, both of them play very significant roles in the general wellness of the human being.
Even though zinc is ubiquitous, high concentrations of it are found in the prostate gland and in the eye. In the prostate gland, it supports the function of the gland and proper growth and development of the reproductive organ. It is also supportive of spermatogenesis (sperm cell development in the testes) in the male.
Zinc helps to maintain good vision in the eye and optimal levels of zinc in the body helps to prevent the eye condition known as macular degeneration. Other parts of the body where zinc may be found in high concentrations include bones, muscle, liver, kidneys and the brain.
Zinc is involved in more than one hundred enzymatic reactions in the body. One of the most popular enzymes that zinc is associated with is carbonic anhydrase. This enzyme is found in the blood and it catalyses the conversion of CO2 to bicarbonate. This is the means by which CO2 is transported to the lungs for exhalation. In the lungs, the same enzyme converts bicarbonate back to CO2. Superoxide dismutase is another enzyme that zinc works with. This enzyme is also an antioxidant which acts on the dreaded superoxide radical to convert it to oxygen and hydrogen peroxide. The hydrogen peroxide is further neutralized by glutathione peroxidase and catalase.
Zinc, copper and magnesium are the co-factors (trace elements), that work with superoxide dismutase. Together with others, they make up the antioxidant mineral defence system. Zinc can therefore be said to possess antioxidant properties.
Other uses of zinc in the human body
Zinc boosts the immune system and therefore plays a significant role in wound healing and treatment of infections such as lower respiratory infectioins, common cold, recurrent ear infections, malaria fever and parasitic infections. Zinc in nasal sprays and lozenges may have a direct anti-microbial effect on organisms that cause the common cold.
In the gastrointestinal tract, zinc can be used to treat or prevent such conditions as peptic ulcer, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and anorexia nervosa which can lead to severe weight loss. Zinc can help in recovery and weight gain.
The role of zinc in the musculo-skeletal system is no less important. It may be used to treat conditions as muscle cramps, osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis. Topical preparations that contain zinc can be used to treat eczema, acne and psoriasis. Not only that, zinc speeds up wound healing and zinc pyrithione is found in anti-dandruff shampoos.
One very significant function of zinc is in the male reproductive system. As I mentioned earlier, zinc is found in high concentrations in the prostate gland and in this system it can prevent what is known as benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH). This is an enlargement of the prostate gland that can occlude the urethra and cause severe bladder inflammation and urinary retention. Zinc can also prevent male infertility (low sperm count) and erectile dysfunction. Ongoing research shows that zinc may kill prostate cancer cells.
Other uses of zinc would include prevention and treatment of HIV, herpes simplex, sickle cell disease, asthma, diabetes, hypertension, thalassemia etc. By the antioxidant function of zinc, it can slow down the aging process and keep the skin and hair shiny and young.
Zinc deficiency may not be very common but some cases have been encountered in areas where proper balanced diet is a challenge.
Symptoms of deficiency are chronic diarrhoea, susceptibility to infection and growth retardation in children. In adults there are symptoms such as alopecia, dry and scaly skin, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, loss of apetite, irritability and slow wound healing. There may also be hypo-insulinaemia (low blood insulin level), malabsorption syndrome, chronic kidney failure, macular degeneration and male infertility.
Food sources of zinc
Seafoods such as oysters, lobsters and crab are rich sources of zinc. Others are beef, liver, lamb, whole grains, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, nuts, almonds and black currant.
As I bring this series, “Minerals of life” to a close, I will like to conclude that these minerals and more, need to be at optimal levels in our bodies all the time to guarantee good health.
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