Z is for Zinc
Zinc might be the last nutrient you’ll find alphabetically, but for men, if you only read about one mineral – make it this one!
What is it?
For some of us, when we think about zinc, we may well think component of brass or isn’t that what they use for galvanising?
But really, we should be thinking – as a guy, I need this right? If there’s one mineral every man should be fully aware of, it’s zinc.
Zinc is a metal, and it’s largely found in the soil. This means that how much of it we get in our diet could easily depend upon how zinc-rich the soil is in which we grow our food.
What does it do?
Sucking on zinc lozenges throughout a common cold could help shorten its lifespan.
zinc is an essential mineral, which means that we can only get it if it’s in our diet.
- The prostate gland, the gland that makes semen, is very zinc-rich. It needs a regular intake of zinc in order to manufacture semen, and it’s been suggested that a drop in zinc status may affect a man’s fertility. Moreover, some studies have shown that men with prostate issues such as prostate cancer or enlarged prostates often have low zinc status – so zinc appears to be protective of the prostate gland too.
- The immune system depends on zinc, and it’s even been suggested that zinc could shorten the life of a common cold! Moreover, low zinc could impede our ability to fight off infections
- We need zinc to make the male hormone, testosterone. It’s not certain why zinc can affect our testosterone levels, but a condition called hypogonadism has been associated with low zinc status.
- Low zinc has been associated with a host of disease states including: depression, cardiovascular and kidney diseases, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. Having a low zinc status doesn’t mean any of these are a given – but does illustrate how important zinc is.
- Zinc is necessary for healthy cell division. Without zinc, cells cannot repair themselves properly if anything goes wrong during growth. In real terms, that means a susceptibility to tumours! It’s also involved in the normal division of rapidly dividing cells such as those in our hair, skin and nails. Poor zinc – bad skin, hair-loss, rubbish nails.
- Zinc is needed by the enzymes in our body to work. There are hundreds of enzymes in our body and they all perform vital functions because they initiate biochemical reactions (including food digestion). Zinc appears to play a part in ensuring enzymes are triggered.
- Low zinc levels may contribute to high blood pressure, which men are more prone to than women. Zinc deficiency is also common in people with type 2 diabetes and chronic kidney disease according to a new study published by the American Physiological Society.
How much zinc does a guy need?
Adult men need about 9.5mg of zinc daily – this is more than women for several reasons (women don’t have prostate glands for one!), but that aside, we should be able to get this from our diet easily without the need for supplementation.
But that depends upon where you live! Globally, it has been suggested that around 17% of people have a zinc deficiency, with most of these people living in Africa and Asia being the worst affected.
In Europe, North America and Australia, zinc deficiency is relatively rare, but can happen. And men who subsist on a vegan diet may be the most at risk.
Also many of us are living longer, and elderly men are more likely to have vitamin and mineral deficiencies than their grandsons.
Where can you get zinc?
We’re covering zinc, not just because it’s an important mineral for all men, but because we get most of our zinc from animal products (especially beef and lamb). Shellfish (oysters, crab) are particularly rich sources.
So if you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, then making sure a regular intake of nuts and seeds is a must. And don’t shy from whole grains and pulses too – forget the Paleo diet!
|Animal sources||Plant sources|
|Shrimp||Chickpeas (Garbanzo beans)|
|Source: World’s Healthiest Foods|
Symptoms of deficiency
Deficiency in zinc isn’t that common, but many global reports on health and nutrition are suggesting that it’s increasing in prevalence.
It’s possible this is due to different farming practices making the plants we eat deficient in zinc. And if we’re deficient, perhaps the animals we eat are too – they often eat from food sources that are even more deficient than humans.
If any of these apply to you, you may have a zinc deficiency – but never assume! Symptoms should always be checked out by a medic first!
- Loss of appetite
- Poor wound healing, not getting over infections
- Eye and skin wounds
- Lethargy and fatigue
- Hair loss (beyond male pattern baldness)
- Weight loss that is unexplainable
You can read more about zinc deficiency here.
Seb is a writer and blogger of food and nutrition. He holds a bachelors and a masters degree in nutrition science, and has studied sports and exercise nutrition at postgraduate level. He specialises in plant-based nutrition and believes passionately that we can all live with a little less meat.