Zinc offers protection against disease and even protects cellular DNA
– but will enrichment do the trick?
Even minor zinc deficiencies may cause poor digestion, infections, skin problems, and fatigue – and many other diseases may occur along the way. A new study shows that a diet with as little as four extra mg of zinc daily may strengthen cellular DNA and help protect the body. The four milligrams of zinc are about the same as populations with deficiency symptoms can get by eating zinc-enriched wheat and rice.
Zinc is present in all cells, where this essential trace element helps control around 300 enzyme processes that are vital for fertility, child growth, metabolic processes, the nervous system, the immune system, wound healing, and numerous other processes. That is why it is so important to get enough zinc every day.
A new study that is published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that even a slight increase in daily zinc consumption may reduce oxidative stress and damage to cellular DNA. Oxidative stress is caused by free radicals that attack the cells. The free radical load increased as a result of normal stress, ageing processes, poisoning, tobacco, and radiation. Our only natural protection against free radicals is different types of antioxidants, and zinc is one of the most important of them all. According to the new study, zinc also repairs damage to cellular DNA.
Because zinc counteracts oxidative stress, it also helps fight accompanying inflammation that is seen with eczema, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and a host of other diseases.
People with unbalanced diets and vegans, vegetarians, and older people should pay careful attention to getting enough zinc.
Even small changes make a large difference
According to Janes King, who headed the study, it comes as a positive surprise that even small increases in a person’s daily zinc intake can have such a profound impact on cellular health and on various metabolic processes. These results call for new strategies that can measure zinc’s influence on human health, and where the use of enriched foods can prevent zinc deficiencies, which are a global problem.
Zinc deficiencies are widespread
Many people around the world consume an unbalanced and refined diet with a whole lot of white rice, white flour, or corn that mainly contributes with empty calories and fails to deliver the vitamins and minerals such as zinc that are needed for countless enzyme processes.
Lack of animal protein in the diet, a large intake of calcium, old age, alcohol, celiac disease (gluten intolerance), diarrhea, diuretics, birth control pills, and prolonged use of antibiotics may also lead to a zinc deficiency.
Older people, zinc deficiency, and signs of ageing
Older people generally have difficulty with absorbing zinc. Unbalanced diets and the use of diuretics increase the risk of zinc deficiency, which is known to accelerate ageing.
Researchers measured zinc’s influence on DNA damage
Because every cell in the body needs zinc for the numerous enzyme processes and for protection against DNA damage and inflammation, zinc plays a very important role in human health. Scientists wanted to look closer at these mechanisms in a randomized, controlled study.
For a six-week period, Janet King and her team of researchers measured the effect of zinc on the human metabolism by counting the number of damaged cellular DNA strings. The scientists used a special parameter for DNA damage to investigate zinc’s influence on health. This method is entirely new and different from earlier methods where researchers typically measured levels of zinc in the blood.
Enrichment of food, healthier diets, or supplements?
Accorrding to Janet King and her team of scientists, the study results are relevant for the planning and development of foods designed to prevent deficiency symptoms. King considers food enrichment a durable and long-term strategy for preventing zinc deficiency. However, in our part of the world where we have access to high-quality foods, we are able to get enough zinc by eating a balanced diet with unrefined foods that also contribute with other nutrients. Anyone at risk of a zinc deficiency can also take a daily zinc supplement as extra protection.
Subclinical zinc deficiency may occur in short time
A team of researchers from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) carried out a study on pigs in which whey demonstrated that even minor zinc deficiencies could damage the digestive system in short time, thereby harming other body functions.
Although clinical zinc deficiency is rather rare, both in humans and animals, short-term zinc deficiency (also called subclinical zinc deficiency) appears to be more common than anticipated, and that is a problem that needs to be addressed.
Measuring zinc levels
Many experts recommend that vegans, vegetarians, and older people get their zinc levels measured, simply because it is easier for humans to absorb zinc from animal food sources. What is more, older people generally have difficulty with their zinc absorption, and they may have shortages, although their diets contain adequate amounts of the nutrient.
The measurement of zinc levels in plasma is an inexpensive analysis that is gaining popularity. In cases where a zinc deficiency is detected, the doctor prescribes zinc supplements, depending on the severity of the deficiency and the patient’s diet. When treating a zinc deficiency, it is important to continue supplementation even after zinc levels are normalized, as zinc is primarily found outside the bloodstream.
Children’s Hospital & Research Center Oakland. Zink eaten at levels found in biofortified crops reduces “wear and tear” on DNA. ScienceDaily 2017
Daniel Brugger et al. Subclinical zinc deficiency impairs pancreatic digestive enzyme activity and digestive capacity of weaned pigs. British Journal of Nutrition 2016
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