Q. I’ve heard there are benefits to taking zinc supplements. What can zinc do for me, and can I take too much of it?
A. Zinc is well-known for its ability to help you fight the common cold. It is also one of the most important minerals for maintaining your immune system and the health of your entire body. Zinc assists with wound healing and promotes normal development in childhood, adolescence and pregnancy. In addition, it can benefit male sexual function; studies have shown that low levels of zinc may help infertility and benign prostatic hyperplasia, which is noncancerous swelling of the prostate gland.
One of the little-known facts about zinc is that it plays an important role in your ability to taste and smell. Over the years, many patients have come to my office with complaints of diminished capacities for tasting their food and smelling the world around them. After I tested for zinc deficiency and prescribed appropriate zinc supplements, their abilities to taste and smell returned to normal within a matter of weeks.
Where do you find zinc in your diet? It occurs naturally in most food groups, and is especially prevalent in oysters, seafood, peanuts, eggs, poultry and beef. Many grains and beans contain zinc, but the phytic acids in these foods tend to inhibit its absorption.
According to the National Institutes of Health, “vegetarians may need as much as 50 percent more zinc than nonvegetarians because of the lower absorption of zinc from plant foods.”
Other groups of people at risk for zinc deficiency include alcoholics and those who consume a lot of antacids (both alcohol and antacids can inhibit the absorption of zinc).
How much zinc do you need each day? The recommended allowance is 9 milligrams a day for women and 11 milligrams a day for men. During pregnancy and lactation, a woman’s zinc requirements increase slightly. You are taking too much zinc if you ingest more than 150 milligrams a day.
How do you know if you are getting enough zinc? As a naturopathic physician, I regularly use a simple test, which takes only a few seconds, to help me assess my patients’ zinc levels. Patients are asked to report on the taste of a zinc solution and, depending on the taste they experience, the test can yield valuable information as to whether they need zinc supplements.
Article was originally printed in the Honolulu Advertiser, honoluluadvertiser.com