(NaturalHealth365) Roughly 12 percent of the United States population is deficient in the essential mineral zinc, and a new study highlights one of the serious consequences of shortages of this vital nutrient.
Zinc plays an indispensable role in creating and balancing an effective defense against infection, and low levels are linked to higher rates of various diseases. More importantly, zinc deficiencies needn’t be massive in order to affect health; according to one recent study, even minor zinc deficiency can cause damage to cell DNA.
Low zinc levels can worsen sepsis: One of the leading causes of death in ICUs
In an animal study conducted at Ohio State University Center for Clinical and Transitional Science and published in July, 2014 in PLoS One, researchers explored the consequences of zinc deficiency by using micro-array analysis to examine lung tissue taken from zinc-deficient mice with sepsis. They found that zinc is responsible for stopping the production of an inflammatory protein known as serum amyloid A.
Without the regulating effect of zinc, the inflammation goes out of control and attacks healthy cells – causing a catastrophic malfunctioning. This exaggerated immune reaction is responsible for 20 percent of human sepsis deaths.
Lead author Daren Knoell, a professor of pharmacy and internal medicine at Ohio State, noted that zinc supplementation improved outcomes in the zinc-deficient mice. He expressed hope that zinc could be useful in preventing and treating sepsis, particularly in individuals who are deficient, but said more research is needed in order to identify appropriate dosages.
Adequate zinc levels protect us from environmental toxins
Zinc plays a vital role in antioxidant defense, protecting against oxidative damage from free radicals, which can harm DNA. This is more important than ever when you consider all the pesticides, heavy metals and other chemicals found in our food and water supplies. According to information released by OSU, otherwise healthy men with low dietary zinc intake were found to have damage to their DNA.
In fact, zinc deficiency in and of itself can cause breakage in DNA strands. The good news? Increasing zinc intake caused the damage to completely reverse.
The seriousness of zinc deficiency is often overlooked
According to Emily Ho, an associate professor with the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, zinc deficiencies are currently “under the radar.” And it is certainly true that deficiencies of other essential nutrients, such as vitamin D, seem to receive more public attention – and headlines.
But the role of zinc is essential, particularly for an aging population. When it comes to elderly people, the national average of 12 percent deficient doesn’t hold true. Up to 40 percent of older Americans may be at risk for zinc deficiency, due to insufficient dietary intake and poor absorption.
This could cause serious health consequences, in light of the fact that a recent study in published in Journal of Nutrition indicates that the reduced zinc status that seems to come with age could contribute to a higher incidence of infection and autoimmune diseases.
Appropriate zinc supplementation offers important health benefits
Of course, zinc is not only useful in preventing complications of sepsis. Some evidence suggests that zinc supplementation can not only help reduce your risk of catching colds, respiratory infections and pneumonia, but lessen the severity of symptoms and the length of infection. Topical zinc may be helpful in treating acne, and University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) reports that zinc is often prescribed to slow damage from age-related macular degeneration.
In addition, researchers believe that zinc may play a role in warding off various types of cancer, including esophageal, breast and prostate cancers. Plus, zinc may help protect against Alzheimer’s disease and heart disease.
How can I tell if I’m deficient in zinc?
Symptoms of zinc deficiency include unexplained weight loss, poor appetite, slow healing of wounds, hair loss, loss of menstrual periods and white spots on the fingernails. Night blindness, depression, and skin problems such as psoriasis can also be red flags indicating a zinc shortfall.
How do I increase my zinc levels?
Zinc is naturally found in good supply in beef, chicken, lamb and shellfish. Although it is found in plant foods – including pumpkin seeds, nuts, beans and cereals – as well, it is not as easily absorbed by the body. As a result, some nutritionists suggest that vegetarians take zinc supplements.
The daily recommended intake for zinc is 8 milligrams for women and 11 milligrams for men; medical authorities warn that amounts over 50 milligrams are excessive. Excess intake of zinc can interfere with the absorption of iron and copper; if you take a zinc supplement, UMMC suggests taking 2 milligrams of copper along with it. Obviously, before taking a zinc supplement, check with a trusted medical professional, dietitian or naturopathic physician to help determine the correct dosage for you.