You may not hear much about the importance of zinc, but as many as 2 billion people around the world are deficient it this important mineral, and 12 percent of them are in the United States.  

Experts are continuing to learn about the crucial role this trace mineral plays in optimum health. For example, zinc is important in protection against oxidative stress and assisting in DNA repair.  Without sufficient levels, your body is not able to repair genetic damage.  This is significant because we live in a world in which damage to our DNA is increasing from the effects of poor diet and chemicals in our environment.

Zinc also appears to be a key player in protection against prostate cancer—the second leading cause of death for men in America.  There are large amounts of zinc stored in the prostate gland. But when the gland develops cancer, those levels drop considerably.  Some researchers think that increasing the amount of zinc in the diet may help to prevent prostate cancer.

How much zinc do you need?

Your body does not absorb and utilize the entire amount of zinc that you digest.  In fact, you will only absorb about 20% to 40%.  This means that you need to take more than you actually need.  The recommended amount for women is 8 milligrams per day and 11 milligrams per day for men.  Women and men both can safely take 40 to 50 milligrams per day. 

It is important not to take too much zinc, however, because too much zinc in your system will inhibit your body from absorbing other important vitamins and minerals.  Excessive zinc levels will also lower your immune protection and good cholesterol.

You can get some of your zinc supply from food sources.  Your body will absorb the zinc best from animal sources such as beef, poultry and oysters.  Some plants contain zinc, such as beans and peanuts, but your body does a poor job of absorbing the zinc from plant sources.  It is better to get your daily amount from a supplement and from animal proteins.

What are the signs of zinc deficiency? 

If you think you have a zinc deficiency, you will notice some of the following symptoms.  

  • Mild anemia
  • Hair loss
  • Slow wound healing
  • Diarrhea
  • Nail problems (hang nails, swollen cuticles, poor nail growth and white spots on the nail)
  • Dry skin
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Skin leisons

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