Zinc (Zn)

Centuries before zinc (German word "Zink", of obscure origin) was recognized as a distinct element, zinc ores were used for making brass. Tubal-Cain, seven generations from Adam, is mentioned as being an "instructor in every artificer in brass and iron." An alloy containing 87 percent zinc has been found in prehistoric ruins in Transylvania. Metallic zinc was produced in the 13th century A.D. in India by reducing calamine (zinc carbonate, ZnCO3) with organic substances such as wool. The metal was rediscovered in Europe by Marggraf in 1746. He demonstrated that zinc could be obtained by reducing calamine with charcoal.

Zinc uses range from metal products to rubber and medicines. About three-fourths of zinc used is consumed as metal, mainly as a coating to protect iron and steel from corrosion (galvanized metal), as alloying metal to make bronze and brass, as zinc-based die casting alloy, and as rolled zinc. The remaining one-fourth is consumed as zinc compounds mainly by the rubber, chemical, paint, and agricultural industries. Zinc is also a necessary element for proper growth and development of humans, animals, and plants; it is the second most common trace metal, after iron, naturally found in the human body.

Zinc is an essential mineral that is found in almost every cell. It stimulates the activity of approximately 100 enzymes, which are substances that promote biochemical reactions in your body. Zinc supports a healthy immune system, is needed for wound healing, helps maintain your sense of taste and smell, and is needed for DNA synthesis. Zinc also supports normal growth and development during pregnancy, childhood, and adolescence.

Zinc is needed in probably more than 100 enzymes and is probably involved in more body functions than any other mineral. It is important in normal growth and development, the maintenance of body tissues, sexual function, the immune system, and detoxification of chemicals and metabolic irritants.

Zinc is necessary for a healthy immune system, and is also of use in fighting skin problems such as acne, boils and sore throats. It is further needed for cell division, and is needed by the tissue of the hair, nails and skin to be in top form. Zinc is further used in the growth and maintenance of muscles. Children, for normal growth and sexual development also require zinc. It also seems as if zinc helps to control the oil glands, and is also required for the synthesis of protein and collagen which is great for wound healing and a healthy skin.

There is a shortage of zinc in many people's diet, since zinc is destroyed in the milling process and is also lost in cooking. A deficiency will result in an under-performing immune system, open to infections, allergies, night blindness, loss of smell, falling hair, white spots under fingernails, skin problems, sleep disturbances, etc. Men with zinc shortage may have a problem with fertility, while women may experience irregular periods. Children with too little zinc may have stunted growth and slow sexual maturity. With too little in the body, the sense of smell might suffer, as well as your sense of taste.

Baldness, blepharitis, paronychia, rashes, sterility, low sperm count, delayed wound healing, splenomegaly, glossitis, stomatitis are more signs. Impaired cell growth and repair, with effects most profound on fetuses and children. Deficiency in Zinc may slow natural growth of fetus and make newborns grow more slowly. Other effects are poor wound healing, reduced sense of taste and smell, white spots on fingernails, mental dullness and difficulty in concentration, hair loss, decrease in red blood cells and white blood cells, making people more susceptible to infections. Zinc is likely to be lacking in teenage diets. Drinkers absorb zinc at reduced rate leading to low sperm count, atrophy of the testicles. Some people with cancer of esophagus, bronchial tubes, prostate have low levels of zinc. High doses of zinc can decrease HDL levels in young males.

Zinc metal is a human skin irritant and is a severe fire hazard but otherwise is non-toxic. Most common zinc compounds are not very toxic but a few zinc salts may be carcinogens. Use of some zinc compounds is permitted around food. Pollution from industrial smoke may cause lung disease.

Men should always ensure enough zinc in their diets, since the health of their prostate gland is linked to zinc. Zinc is needed to manufacture testosterone and a shortage may induce a low sperm count, loss of libido and other emotional problems. Zinc may also be helpful in fighting infection and inflammation of the prostate gland in older men. It is lost on ejaculation, since sperm needs this mineral to swim towards the egg. If a woman is taking birth control pills, or receiving hormone replacement therapy, extra zinc may be indicated. All vegans and vegetarians, pregnant or lactating women, as well as people suffering from psoriasis should also consider their zinc intake. People consuming large amounts of alcohol may also be at risk of lowered zinc levels.

Elevated intake of zinc (1-2 gram per day) over an extended period can actually harm your immune system instead of assisting it. Intake of zinc should be kept to under 100 mg per day as larger amounts may result in nausea, diarrhea, dizziness, drowsiness and hallucinations. If you wish to take a zinc supplement, take it at night on an empty stomach, as zinc can interfere with the absorption of other minerals such as copper and iron. In a multi-vitamin situation, make sure that the zinc and iron are nearly in the same amounts. Large intakes of zinc can cause nausea and diarrhea.

Zinc is found in a wide variety of foods. Oysters contain more zinc per serving than any other food, but red meat and poultry provide the majority of zinc in the American diet. Other good food sources include beans, nuts, certain seafood, whole grains, fortified breakfast cereals, and dairy products. Zinc absorption is greater from a diet high in animal protein than a diet rich in plant proteins. Phytates, which are found in whole grain breads, cereals, legumes and other products, can decrease zinc absorption.