What is it?
Zinc is a micronutrient that must be present in the human diet and be ingested in small amounts daily, being a very important cofactor of more than 100 enzymes in the human body. Zinc deficiency can lead to growth retardation, diarrhea, alopecia, glossitis, nail dystrophy, decreased immunity, and hypogonadism in men.
What’s zinc for?
It is an important catalyst of enzymatic activity, besides contributing to protein structure and regulating gene expression. Patients with alcoholism, malnutrition, inflammatory bowel diseases and malabsorption syndromes have a higher risk of zinc deficiency, subject to their symptoms. Furthermore, when combined with antioxidants it can be modestly effective in slowing the progression of intermediate and advanced age-related macular degeneration, and is considered an effective treatment for Wilson’s disease.
How does zinc work?
Despite the many essential roles in human physiology, no robust data supports zinc supplementation alone for people with normal levels of this micronutrient in the body, i.e. it should not be supplemented prophylactically. Adverse effects of prolonged high-dose use include suppressed immunity, decreased levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, anemia, copper deficiency, and possible genitourinary complications.
When do you need to supplement?
As previously noted, it assists in the treatment of Wilson’s disease and may be useful in advanced age combined with antioxidants such as vitamins C and E and beta carotene, in addition to cases of zinc deficiency and childhood diarrhea in malnourished populations, but current evidence does not support its supplementation as effective for upper respiratory infection, wound healing or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Therefore, it is well tolerated at the recommended dosages.
Article: Saper RB, Rash R. Zinc: an essential micronutrient. Am Fam Physician. 2009 May 1;79(9):768-72. PMID: 20141096; PMCID: PMC2820120.
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