What is zinc?
Zinc is a pure chemical element with the symbol Zn on the periodic table. Zinc has an atomic number of 30, meaning that each atom of Zinc has 30 protons and 30 neutrons in its nucleus. Zinc is found in every cell of the human body and is a co-factor of at least 100 enzymatic reactions. Zinc is required for proper growth, development and wound healing throughout life.1
What does zinc do in the body?
Zinc is important as a co-factor for many metabolic functions in the body, especially enzymatic functions. An enzyme is any protein that catalyzes a chemical reaction without being altered in the process. Zinc helps enzymes to work properly by either altering the enzyme’s shape or by facilitating activation. Alcohol dehydrogenase, the enzyme that breaks down the alcohol in beer, wine, and liquor, has zinc at its core.
Another function of zinc is to help proteins fold correctly. When a protein is made in the body, it must have the proper three dimensional shape in order to be functional. Zinc plays a central role in the decoding process and gene regulation of DNA.
Zinc plays a central role in cellular replication, and as a result severe zinc deficiency can lead to hypogonadism, severe growth abnormalities and an impaired immune response. Zinc deficiency has been noted in populations that subsist on cereals and nothing else.2
Where do I get zinc?
Zinc is abundant in oysters, crab, beef liver, and turkey. Additional sources include wheat germ, lobsters, chicken, clams, yogurt, and refried beans.2
How much zinc do I need?
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for men is 11 mg/day, and 8mg/day. For women who are pregnant the RDA is 11 mg/day, and for women who are breastfeeding the RDA is 12 mg/day.3
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2 Insel P, Turner RE, Ross D. Discovering Nutrition. 3rd ed. Jones and Bartlett, Sudbury Massachusetts. pp 428-431.
3 Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium, and Zinc. Washington, DC: National Academies Press; 2001.