There’s a reason Hippocrates once said, “let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food”—there is power in the foods we eat. Zinc-rich foods have been used for health and healing for centuries. Even the forefathers of modern medicine understood the importance of nutrition. Although zinc is mostly known for its role in strengthening the immune system and shortening the duration of minor illnesses like colds and flu, new research supports the idea that eating zinc-rich foods may have even more benefits than once thought.
Scientists are finding that zinc-rich foods may influence the immune response and reduce inflammation and could also improve your overall health and vitality. Zinc is also an essential trace element required by various organs in the body to function properly such as those of the digestive system and thyroid gland. Zinc-rich foods have may also have additional benefits related to:
Zinc is an essential mineral, which is basically a chemical element or nutrient required by living organisms to perform the functions necessary for life. There are 16 essential minerals including calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur, sodium, chloride, magnesium, iron, zinc, copper, manganese, iodine, and selenium, molybdenum, chromium, and fluoride. Minerals cannot be made by living organisms but must instead come from food.
Zinc is naturally present in some foods and added to others and is available as a dietary supplement. It is also often found in cold lozenges or over-the-counter cold remedies.
Your body cannot store zinc; therefore, daily intake of this element through food or supplements is necessary.
Zinc is required for the catalytic activity or chemical reactions of approximately 100 enzymes involved in protein synthesis, DNA synthesis, and cell division. Zinc-rich foods also play an extremely important role in growth and development during pregnancy, childhood, and adolescence.
A recent study published in the Molecular Nutrition and Food Research Journal has linked low levels of zinc to an increased risk of chronic diseases, including:
Additional research performed on mice of various ages found a possible inverse correlation between zinc and inflammation. Elderly mice had lower levels of zinc, higher levels of inflammation, and decreased IL-6 methylation, which is an important mechanism that controls gene expression.
In the absence of zinc, immune cells were shown to respond by increasing inflammation. The researchers also found that low levels of zinc are correlated with abnormal immune cell activation and impaired production and signaling of anti-inflammatory cytokine IL-6.
Consuming zinc-rich foods or taking zinc supplements daily is vital to maintaining healthy level of zinc at all times. The following table presents the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of zinc according to age. However, what the RDA recommends is not necessarily what is optimal for your body. In adults, optimal dosage of zinc can range from 15-30 mg of elemental zinc a day, and is best obtained from foods.
|0–6 months||2 mg||2 mg|
|7–12 months||3 mg||3 mg|
|1–3 years||3 mg||3 mg|
|4-8 years||5 mg||5 mg|
|9-13 years||8 mg||8 mg|
|14-18 years||11 mg||9 mg||12 mg||13 mg|
|>18 years||11 mg||8 mg||11 mg||12 mg|
A wide variety of zinc-rich foods are available for daily consumption. Although red meat and poultry provide the majority of zinc in the typical American diet, there are numerous other healthy sources to choose from. The bioavailability of zinc in plant-based foods such as bread, cereals, and legumes are slightly lower than in animal products but can still provide a good source of this crucial mineral.
Zinc is present in small traces in most foods. Here’s a list of zinc-rich foods that can be included in your daily meals to ensure you’re getting a regular supply of zinc.
Zinc is an important nutrient that your body needs to thrive. Even a mild to moderate zinc deficiency can impair the ability of your body’s organs to function. Low levels of zinc have been associated with lowered immunity. In more severe cases, zinc deficiencies have been linked to hair loss, diarrhea, impotence, eye and skin lesions, weight loss, taste abnormalities, and mental lethargy. Many of these symptoms are also side effects of other ailments so it is important to speak to your healthcare provider if you are experiencing any signs of zinc deficiency.
The bioavailability of zinc from plant-based foods is much lower compared non-vegetarian options, such as meat and fish. Red meat is known to enhance zinc absorption, whereas legumes and whole grains contain phytates that bind to zinc, so eating large amounts can inhibit zinc absorption. Therefore, if you primarily eat a plant-based diet, it’s important to increase your RDA of zinc by up to 50 percent.
Certain food preparation techniques can be used to reduce plant phytates and increase the bioavailability of zinc, such as
There is an actual relationship between adrenal fatigue and zinc deficiency. Zinc is a key factor in how your body stores histamines. Chronic stress can lead to adrenal fatigue. This can deplete your levels of calcium, magnesium, and zinc, thereby contributing to an increase in histamine levels. A zinc deficiency will allow high levels of histamines to be released in your body, which can produce many of the symptoms associated with allergies and make you more sensitive to allergic reactions. People suffering from Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) often find themselves more sensitive to allergens.
Zinc deficiency can also exacerbate hormone imbalances associated with adrenal fatigue. One of the main functions of the stress-related hormone cortisol—produced by the adrenal glands—is to prevent inflammation. When zinc levels are low, your body loses its edge on fighting inflammation.
A number of other health problems exacerbated by zinc deficiency are also linked to adrenal fatigue, including:
Taking zinc supplements and eating zinc-rich foods can be powerful tools during the AFS recovery process. Since all of the circuits in your body work in conjunction, something as seemingly simple as low levels of zinc can be enough to throw your entire NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) stress response system into disarray. A zinc deficiency, or a deficiency in any other essential nutrient for that matter, can affect the NEM stress response system, which includes both your endocrine system and metabolic circuit.
Beware! As with most things, you must be knowledgeable and informed about taking supplements as there are health risks associated with overconsumption. Zinc has intrinsic stimulatory properties and both acute and chronic toxicity can occur.
Acute adverse effects of zinc often include:
Consuming high levels of zinc on a daily basis has been associated with chronic issues such as
Caution must be exerted if you are in stage 3 of adrenal fatigue since your body may not be able to properly handle supplements, including zinc. Although supplementation is crucial for AFS recovery, it’s important to allow your body the time it needs to regain enough strength so that you can actually reap the benefits of these supplements.
Zinc is suitable as a long-term supplement unless you have been advised by your healthcare practitioner to take it regularly. Improper use of zinc, including frequency, timing, and intensity, can lead to adrenal crashes. However, if you are already taking zinc supplements, you should not stop abruptly. Always gradually reduce your intake.
Before starting any nutritional supplement for adrenal fatigue, it’s important to consult with an expert to ensure you are taking the right form at the right dose for your current condition so it does not interfere with your recovery or cause any additional damage.
Zinc is not stored in the body, therefore, it’s important to consume zinc-rich foods daily. However, it’s equally important that you do not exceed the maximum RDA. That’s why, before you start any new health regime, it’s best to consult with a professional who is knowledgeable in both nutrition and AFS.
Zinc-rich foods are safe depending on what stage of Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome you have progressed to. It’s best to ask your healthcare provider about foods and supplements containing zinc since too much or too little of this essential mineral could be dangerous.