The connection between zinc and liver disease
(NaturalHealth365) Over the past few decades, the incidence of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), has soared in the United States, going from a little-known condition to a virtual epidemic. In fact, some experts estimate that up to 40 percent of Americans are currently living with some degree of NAFLD (excess fatty liver deposits in people who don’t typically drink to excess). Recent research indicates that an essential mineral, zinc, could offer valuable ammunition against NAFLD – and against its dangerous complications.
In about 25 percent of cases, NAFLD progresses to nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, or NASH – a much more serious form of the disease that can, in turn, lead to cirrhosis, liver failure and liver cancer. Fortunately, a new Japanese study involving patients with liver disease shows that supplementation with zinc can improve liver function – while reducing the risk of cancer. Today, we’ll show you how it works.
It’s official: Zinc supplementation cuts risk of deadly liver cancer
The controlled clinical study, conducted at Osaka-Rosai Hospital and published in 2018 in Nutrients, involved 267 participants with chronic liver disease – including hepatitis B and C, alcohol-related cirrhosis of the liver and NASH.
196 of the participants received twice-daily doses of 150 mg of polaprezinc, each containing 33.3 mg of zinc.
The other 71 patients received no zinc supplementation – although all patients received other standard treatments, including amino acid supplementation.
After 36 months, the team found that the zinc group had lower levels of inflammatory markers, along with improved liver function. Meanwhile, participants who didn’t receive any supplementary zinc experienced deterioration in liver function.
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And that wasn’t all.
The researchers also reported that the zinc group had a lower risk of developing hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common type of liver cancer in adults.
Researchers: Higher zinc concentrations linked with more pronounced improvements
And, the degree of improvement was closely associated with levels of zinc in the blood.
After 36 months of supplementation, those with zinc concentrations of at least 70 micrograms per deciliter had lower rates of negative events – including liver cancer, liver failure and death.
Significantly, these events did not occur (that’s zero times) in patients with zinc levels of 90 micrograms per deciliter or higher. The research not only highlighted the value of zinc supplementation for liver disease – but shed light on the cellular mechanisms behind the benefits.
For example, the researchers observed that having insufficient zinc in the body may cause an activation of hepatic stellate cells, which in turn promotes lipid peroxidation. The result: increased fatty accumulation in the liver.
In contrast, having optimal levels of zinc seems to inhibit peroxidation, thereby helping to prevent deposits of fat, and consequent liver damage. Note: NAFLD exists when fat constitutes more than 5 percent of the liver. For NASH, the threshold is 10 percent.
The researchers concluded that zinc supplementation improved liver pathology and reduced liver cancer – and did so safely. They remarked that zinc was equally useful for patients with a range of chronic liver diseases, including viral hepatitis, alcohol-related cirrhosis and NASH.
Alert: Zinc levels fall as liver disease progresses
Zinc, an essential trace element, carries out a range of important functions – such as promoting normal digestion, maintaining the health of skin and hair and supporting wound healing.
A powerful immune system booster, zinc also fights disease – particularly respiratory infections – with its anti-inflammatory, antiviral and antioxidant properties. While severe zinc deficiency is rare, a milder type of shortage – known as marginal zinc deficiency, or dietary zinc deficiency – is actually widespread.
In fact, according to a study in Science Reports, an estimated 1.1 billion people worldwide are at risk of zinc deficiency because of inadequate dietary intake. Symptoms of zinc deficiency include fatigue, susceptibility to infection, poor concentration, skin disorders, impaired sense of taste and difficulty in healing wounds.
In addition to its other responsibilities, zinc plays a pivotal role in maintenance of liver function. Unfortunately, chronic liver disease depletes zinc levels in a variety of ways. It can affect appetite – and dietary intake of zinc – while impairing proper absorption of nutrients and increasing urinary excretion.
Unsurprisingly, research has found that serum concentrations of zinc decline steadily as liver disease progresses. Clearly, the current national prevalence of fatty liver disease showcases the need for sufficient intake of zinc.
How much zinc do I need a day?
The USDA advises 11 mg of zinc a day for men, and 8 mg for women – with a tolerable upper limit of 40 mg a day.
Increase your dietary zinc intake with healthy amounts of grass-fed beef, organic chicken, wild-caught salmon and cage-free eggs. If you observe a vegan or vegetarian diet, no worries. Organic chickpeas, cashews and pumpkin and sunflower seeds are good sources of zinc as well.
However, if you have a zinc shortfall (which can be detected with a simple blood test), your doctor may recommend supplementation. Zinc is included in most multivitamin and mineral formulations, and is also available in lozenges, capsules and tablets as a stand-alone supplement.
Note: Check first with your integrative physician before supplementing with zinc, and follow dosage guidelines. Excessive intake of zinc can cause side effects, and interfere with the absorption of copper and other essential minerals.
Experts say that the growing national rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes set the stage for chronic liver disease, which can result from an excess, not of alcohol – but of calories.
Eating an organic, non-GMO diet – low in refined sugars and processed foods – can help address this modern-day epidemic, as can natural supplements advised by your integrative doctor, such as milk thistle (silymarin), N-acetyl cysteine and alpha lipoic acid.
While these can all be helpful, it is the humble mineral zinc that will likely prove to be an indispensable ally in combating NAFLD and NASH.
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Sources for this article include: