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Zinc, more than just a mineral, a boon for health

THE ASIAN AGE.
Published : Dec 4, 2017, 6:40 am IST
Updated : Dec 4, 2017, 7:30 am IST

Today, Zinc is the 4th most widely consumed mineral in the world after iron, aluminium, and copper.

Zinc strengthens the immune system to prevent and effectively fight diarrheal diseases which are often life threatening for children in the developing countries.
 Zinc strengthens the immune system to prevent and effectively fight diarrheal diseases which are often life threatening for children in the developing countries.

We all know that the majority of usages of Zinc is for protecting the steel from corrosion, giving an extended life and durability. Zinc batteries and Zinc based paints are also common globally. But how many of us know that Zinc is an essential mineral for daily life. There is another side of Zinc which is lesser known than used and which only proves, we all have Zinc in our lives.

Germans called Zinc metal as ‘Caunterfeitum’ or ‘mock-silver’ because of its silvery white lustre and ‘rishis’ of Vedic era recommend ‘Jasada bhasma’ a Zinc based preparation, as the treatment of choice for diabetes. The importance of Zinc has been known to India since ancient times. Modern medicine also recognizes the curative properties of Zinc. Long before being identified as an element, Zinc was used for making brass and for medicinal purposes.

While Zinc was unknown in Europe until the end of 16th century, India had been producing Zinc at a large scale since the 12th century onwards. The mines in Rajasthan have given an evidence of Zinc production since 6th century BC.

Today, Zinc is the 4th most widely consumed mineral in the world after iron, aluminium, and copper. Almost 58% of the Zinc mined across the world is used for galvanizing, 14% for diecasting, 10% for alloys and brass making, 9% in chemicals, 6% in rolled Zinc and 3% for other miscellaneous purposes.

An adult human body contains about 2-3 grams of Zinc, needed for the body’s enzymes and immune system to function properly. Every cell requires Zinc to multiply. Zinc strengthens the immune system to prevent and effectively fight diarrheal diseases which are often life threatening for children in the developing countries. A few extra milligrams of Zinc everyday could save the life of 450,000 kids.

Zinc deficiency is a global health problem. According to studies done by International Zinc Association, in spite of proven benefits of adequate Zinc nutrition, approximately 2 billion people still remain at the risk of Zinc deficiency and 800,000 people are at risk of dying each year due to Zinc deficiency.

According to Food and Health Organization (FAO), one third of the world population lives in countries that have high risk of Zinc deficiency, India being one of them. The most vulnerable are infants, young children, pregnant and lactating women due to their elevated requirements for Zinc.

Children are especially vulnerable to Zinc deficiency which weakens their immune system making them prone to diarrhoea, pneumonia and malaria which are most common causes of death in developing countries. Surprisingly, India contributes to the largest child deaths in the world. Zinc deficiency also leads to retarded growth & development and stunting with life-long impacts on health.

Point is, we do understand that we need Zinc for our body, but how many of us actually demand for it.

Zinc - a Nutrient for all
An essential trace element, Zinc is imperatively required by the human body to act as a catalyst for the daily functioning of the body. Zinc deficiency today kills 1.5 million children every year. Zinc deficiency affects not only kids but adults too.

It all starts with the soil that grows the crops which the populace consumes. When the soils are deficient in Zinc, the grain concentrations of the crops grown in these soils are lower. Thus people eating crops that have been grown in Zinc – deficient soils receive less Zinc from their diets and are therefore at risk of Zinc deficiency. By consuming Zinc rich foods like seafood, beef, wheat germ, spinach, nuts = etc., one can ensure a healthy immune system, proper building of proteins and smooth absorption of copper and iron in the body in the long run. Thus, by adding Zinc to the soils, to the foods (also called fortification) or even through consumption of oral tablets or multivitamin supplements, one can ensure no pathological and physiological consequences of Zinc deficiency and a healthy working body.

Zinc - reduces DNA
Damage Zinc is an essential part of nearly 3,000 different proteins, and it impacts how these proteins regulate every cell in our body. In the absence of sufficient Zinc, our ability to repair every day wear and tear on our DNA is compromised.

A modest increase in dietary Zinc - equivalent to four milligrams per day - may reduce oxidative stress and wear and tear to DNA, a new study has claimed. Researchers from the UCSF Benioff Children Hospital Research Institute (CHORI) in the US show that extra Zinc in the diet can have a profound, positive impact on cellular health that helps fight infections and diseases.

This amount of Zinc is equivalent to what biofortified crops like Zinc rice and Zinc wheat can add to the diet of vulnerable, nutrient deficient populations, researchers said. The study led by CHORI Senior Scientist Janet King and her team is the first to show that a modest increase in dietary Zinc reduces oxidative stress and damage to DNA.

Zinc - for improvement of your Vision
In today’s times of increasing working hours and chronic stress, Computer Vision Syndrome and Digital Eye Strain are a common issue. Headache, blurred vision, irritation, extra tearing, excessive blinking and even neck pain are symptoms of the same.

Zinc, the essential trace mineral, or ‘helper molecule’, is vital for eye health. Zinc is highly concentrated in the eyes, mostly in the retina and choroid, the vascular tissue layer under the retina. It plays a crucial role in bringing vitamin-A from the liver to the retina in order to produce melanin, a protective pigment in the eyes. Zinc has been shown to protect against age-related macular degeneration, night blindness, cataract, damage to optic nerve, impaired vision, poor night vision and cloudy cataracts. A person with Zinc deficiency in their body is also at risk for alopecia (loss of hair from eyebrows and eyelashes), mental sluggishness and increased susceptibility to infection.

Zinc - a tonic for your Skin
Pollution, harsh weather, the sun’s UV rays, poor diet, stress and lack of exercise. All of these have a role to play in deteriorating your skin’s condition. A trace mineral essential to all forms of life, Zinc is especially important for clear skin because of its fundamental role in gene expression, cell growth and cell replication. Zinc’s presence in personal care products like sunscreens, bath soaps, baby lotion, makeup etc. helps reduce sunburn and premature aging of the skin. Used in a wide range of cosmetics and personal care products, Zinc in the form of Zinc Oxide, acts as a skin protectant from both UVA and UVB rays. It enhances the wound healing process, and meets the increased demand of cell proliferation that occur in the early phases of healing.

Sunscreens containing Zinc and its soluble forms provide antioxidant protection to the skin. Zinc salt has been used as a cosmetic ingredient since it contains anti – microbial and astringent properties. By using skin toners with Zinc helps tighten pores and absorb excess oil, which in turn helps to prevent the build-up of sebum, the reason behind acne. ‘Seborrheic dermatitis’ (dandruff) is a condition that we are well aware of.

Shampoos containing Zinc help treat and prevent flaking of the scalp tremendously as per a study done by National Centre for Biotechnology Information. Also, extensively used in the form of mineral make up, Zinc and its compounds help prevent and protect the skin from burns and irritation because of which, it is universally used in ointments for relieving from sunburns, windburns and diaper rashes. Another benefit of Zinc is its usage in Soaps. Zinc helps treat various skin conditions like psoriasis, eczema, ringworm, fungus etc.

Zinc - boon for Healthy Hair
Hair loss can be caused by various reasons such as hormones, genetics, poor diet, age, radiation or chemotherapy treatment, stress, infections, chemicals, rapid weight loss, or other diseases. But the most common cause of hair loss is poor nutrition.

Zinc consumption is vital in human body because it helps build healthy cells, regulate hormones and absorb other nutrients. It also plays a key role for healthy hair, skin and nails.

Zinc is required for the normal division of hair follicle cells, leading to healthier hair growth. Zinc also helps keep hormone levels balanced, which could be one of the reasons why it is effective in preventing hair loss.

Experts believe that Zinc deficiency can actually lead to deterioration of the protein structure that makes up the hair follicle. This weakening of follicles can in turn cause hair shedding and hair loss. There are even a few outlying studies in which people’s greyed, aged hair returned to its original colour when nourished with Zinc-rich diets or hair growth supplements. As a bonus, Zinc for hair growth may help eliminate dandruff on the scalp as well.

ZINC – a must for Dental Care
Zinc plays a significant role towards dental care and hygiene. Bad breath or halitosis is caused when there are signs of tooth decays, which produces sulphur compounds that are reasons for foul odour. Mouthwash might mask the problem for some time, but won’t fix it. Brushing the teeth regularly is the remedy to remove the bacteria causing malodour. Here is where Zinc steps in. Zinc and chlorine dioxide when used in toothpastes help treat bad breath.

Zinc stops the enzymes from breaking down the amino acid that makes sulphur; while chlorine dioxide kills the already formed bacteria. This prevents tooth decay, gum disease, and gastroenteritis, which are all associated with bad breath. While Zinc is present in the human body in cells, eyes etc., it is also naturally present in mouth in the saliva and the enamel of teeth.

Zinc is formulated into oral health products to control plaque, reduce malodour, prevent growth of bacteria and inhibit calculus deposits that form on the teeth. Zinc helps prevent diseases that originate from the mouth like: oral ulceration, stomatitis, white tongue coating, mouth sores and burning mouth syndrome. Zinc is also used when teeth are affected by cavities, in the form of fillings to restore a damaged tooth back to its normal function and shape. Using a mixture of Zinc and other elements, this filling lasts for more than 10 years, is less expensive and can withstand forces.

Zinc – can prevent Osteoporosis
What is Osteoporosis - It is a medical condition in which the bones become brittle and fragile from loss of tissue, typically as a result of hormonal changes, or deficiency of calcium or vitamin D. Though any age is vulnerable to Osteoporosis, but people above 40 are more prone to it. There are more than 10 million cases per year in India.

We all have forever patronized Calcium for strong bone health in our bodies. With increased awareness for the nutrient, everyone focuses on Calcium and forgets about another essential element which helps in increasing bone density and boosting immunity.

Zinc is in fact a crucial element for proper absorption of Calcium and Vitamin D to get into cells where it works to build bones. Although Calcium is the mineral most associated with bone formation, Zinc is also found in the bones. Forming a small percentage of the bone, Zinc isneeded to form Hydroxylapatite which is a naturally occurring crystalline Calcium complex. Hydroxylapatite crystals make up about half of the bones' weight.

A deficiency in trace minerals predisposes osteoporosis. According to studies by National Centre for Biotechnology Information, Zinc helps in prevention of osteoporosis.

Zinc – helpful for Thyroid patients
Zinc may be helpful in patients with low T3 and may contribute to conversion of T4 to T3. In animal studies, Zinc deficiency lowered T3 and free T4 concentrations by approximately 30%. Levels of total T4 were not affected by Zinc deficiency. In a group of patients with low levels of free T3 and normal T4, but elevated rT3 and mild to moderate Zn deficiency, taking oral Zinc supplements for 12 months, normalized the serum free T3 and total T3 levels, decreased the rT3 and normalized TSH levels.

On the other hand, like iodine, too much Zinc may suppress thyroid function. Very high doses of Zinc interfere with copper absorption and can lead to serious and potentially fatal copper deficiency. Thus it is advised to take copper when supplementing with Zinc.

Zinc - helpful in Depression
Zinc plays a part in modulating the brain and body’s response to stress all along the way. Zinc has been found to be low in the serum of those suffering from depression. In fact, the lower the Zinc level, the more depressed a person is. Zinc deficiency can lead to symptoms of depression, difficulties with learning and memory, seizures, aggression, and violence. Low serotonin levels are also believed to be the cause of many cases of mild to severe depressionwhich can lead to symptoms such as anxiety, apathy, fear, feelings of worthlessness, insomnia and fatigue. The enzymes containing Zinc are necessary for the synthesis of serotonin.

Since the 1920s Zinc has been known to play a credible role in mental health. Decades of research have found a link between taking Zinc supplements and improvement in the symptoms of schizophrenia, autism, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and other mental health problems. Zinc is particularly found in a part of the brain called the hippocampus. In the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain central to memory and mood, antidepressants work by increasing the production of the nerve fertilizer BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor) in the hippocampus, which helps in nerve recovery, adaptation, and repair. Zinc deficiency leads to decreased Zinc in the nerve synapse. The same mechanism might be responsible for seizures, migraines, dementia, anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder.

Under conditions of major stress, Zinc swiftly leaves the body in the form of urine, sweat, and saliva. A daily intake of Zinc is required to maintain a steady state of the body.

ZINC – a boon for your Memory
The link between Zinc and memory is well studied especially because Zinc deficiency can cause memory loss. Don’t be surprised, Zinc deficiency also affects your Memory - How !!! Over the years, it has been shown that some people with memory impairment do have Zinc deficiency. In a study done on mice by researchers from Duke University Medical Centre and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the role of Zinc in the brain has been highlighted. Zinc is stored and released in the brain from nerve cells that are also responsible for releasing the neurotransmitter, glutamate. The released Zinc can act on glutamate receptors and other voltagegated ion channels in the brain. It can also modulate synapses (a property known as synaptic plasticity). Both of these effects contribute significantly to learning and memory. Zinc deficiency affects short-term memory more than long-term memory.

ZINC - stave off Cancer growth
Zinc supplements may halt the rapid growth of esophageal cancer cells, according to a study that could lead to new prevention and treatment strategies for the disease. Previous studies have shown that Zinc is essential for maintaining human health and protects the oesophagus or food pipe from cancer. Researchers at the University of Texas, Arlington, U.S. discovered that Zinc selectively halts the growth of cancer cells but not normal esophageal epithelial cells. “Zinc deficiencyhas been found in many cancer patients. Both clinical data and animal studies have shown that this mineral is very important for overall body health and for cancer prevention,” says Dr. Zui Pan, an associate professor of nursing at UTA. The study, published in the FASEB Journal, found that Zinc is an important element in many proteins and many enzymes and its absence makes it impossible for cells to function.

An insufficient amount of Zinc can lead to the development of cancer and other diseases, the researchers say.

ZINC – can improve your Sleep Disorder
Zinc plays an essential role in neurotransmitter function and helps maintain cognition. It is necessary in the metabolism of Melatonin which is a key hormone for healthy sleep. Zinc is one of the three minerals that have a sedative effect on the nervous system (the others are Calcium and Magnesium) and is also thought to help mental recovery post-stress.

A research study by Rondanelli et al in 2011 tested the effect of Zinc, Melatonin & Magnesium on patients with primary insomnia and found that the treatment had a beneficial effect on the quality of sleep. It is thought that whilst the Melatonin helped with sleep onset, it was Magnesium and Zinc that had a positive effect on the restorative value of sleep.

Consumption of Zinc helps to have less wake-ups in the night. It is an excellent & safe sleep aid; and also has a calming & antidepressant effect. Zinc has shown to improve the vividness of dreams as well.

Studies published in the Journal of American Geriatrics Society have revealed that the combination of Zinc, Melatonin and Magnesium is highly recommended to help improve the quality of sleep of insomnia patients.

ZINC - a necessary supplement for Diabetes
Diabetes might be one of the most talked about diseases across the world and especially in India, but awareness about the same can well be estimated by the fact that today India has more people with type-2 diabetes. The WHO also estimates that 80 per cent of diabetes deaths occur in low and middleincome countries and projects that such deaths will double between 2016 and 2030.

Interestingly, Zinc has long been an ingredient used in “older” insulins, such as Regular, NPH, and Lente. Zinc is also necessary for the formation of insulin in the pancreas’s beta cells. For these reasons, researchers have looked at the role of Zinc supplementation in the prevention and treatment of Type 2 diabetes— but unfortunately, without success.

However, new light has been shed on the role of Zinc in diabetes. In this month’s issue of Diabetes Care, Finnish researchers followed 1,050 adults with Type 2 diabetes for seven years. During that time, 156 participants died from heart disease and 254 had fatal or nonfatal heart attacks. Blood Zinc levels were lower in people who died from heart disease compared to those who survived; also, Zinc levels were lower in those who had heart attacks. The authors of this study speculate that, possibly because Zinc has antioxidant properties, supplementation may be useful in warding off heart disease in people with Type 2 diabetes.

Zinc - for a healthy Heart
Researchers from the University of Leicester discovered that Zinc plays a key role in regulating the way Calcium moves in the heart cells. Zinc is present in heart muscle and interacts with Calcium to affect heart function.

Past research have shown patients with congestive heart failure often have profound Zinc deficiency. Zinc has potent antioxidant properties which help to neutralize free radicals that may accelerate aging & contribute to the development of chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease. In addition to essential metabolic functions, the level of Zinc in the body also affects the heart muscle. When oxidative stress occurs, it may be due to a shortage of Zinc, which can be determined by examining the heart muscle. Studies by the Technical University of Munich (TUM) show the relationship between the total amount of Zinc in the body and cardiac function. Zinc deficiency initially appears as symptoms on the skin, hair and fingernails, although it can progress to include reduced immune response and organ failure, including the heart. Heart palpitations have numerous causes, including many benign ones, but they may indicate early signs of heart failure.

Zinc appears to have protective effects in coronary artery disease and cardiomyopathy. In such states, replenishing with Zinc has been shown to improve cardiac function and prevent further damage.

There are many areas where Zinc is beneficial. Globally, the usages of Zinc are still being explored and the doctors are finding new areas where Zinc may prove to be useful.

While Zinc is vital for proper functioning of the body, it is important to consult medical advice before taking Zinc supplements.

India is amongst very few countries in the world that have sufficient availability of Zinc for at least next 40 years. Once the public sector company, Hindustan Zinc, now under the Vedanta Group, has production capacity of 825,000 tonnes of Zinc against the consumption of about 675,000 tonnes in India. Hindustan Zinc is also looking to expand the production of Zinc to over 1.2 million tonnes in the coming 3-5 years to meet the growing demand of Zinc in the domestic sector.

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Tags: hindustan zinc, food and health organization