A blog to help you optimize your full-body and life performance

How much do you know about zinc?

By Meghan Johnson Feb 29, 2012

 

Are you getting enough zinc?  Zinc is vitally important to maintain good health and optimize athletic performance year-round. Beefing up your zinc knowledgeZinc is an essential mineral that is found naturally in some foods, and can be consumed as an additive in other foods or taken as a supplement.  image

Being an “essential” mineral means that our bodies can’t produce zinc on their own, and it is a vital part of healthy cell metabolism and division; immune function; protein and DNA synthesis and regulation; and wound healing. If you’re not convinced that you should be paying attention to zinc, keep in mind it is also important for healthy heart, cholesterol levels, respiratory system and low inflammation levels. Older adults listen up – studies have shown that adequate levels of zinc can actually improve your memory and energy levels! Some of the best food sources of zinc include: Seafood such as oysters, Alaska king crab, and lobster Fortified breakfast cereals Beef Pork Dairy products, such as milk, cheese and yogurt Beans, including garbanzo (chickpeas) and kidney Nuts, such as almonds and cashews Oatmeal Chicken (especially dark meat)

To make sure you’re getting enough zinc, men should aim to consume 11mg per day, and 8mg per day for women (slightly more for women who are pregnant or nursing). Getting enough zinc shouldn’t be too difficult; a 3-ounce beef patty contains about 5mg (about half of the recommended daily amount!). How do you know if you’re getting enough zinc?Aside from keeping a food journal or using an online food tracking software program, your body will often tell you if you are consuming too much or too little zinc. It’s important to pay attention to how your body feels and listen to your symptoms.

Click here to learn how InsideTracker can recommend zinc-rich foods that will fit your physical needs and unique taste preferences!If your zinc levels are too low, you may see signs of zinc deficiency including white spots, bands, and lines on finger nails; hair loss; skin rashes; acne; diarrhea; poor eyesight; and impaired taste, smell and memory. If you aren’t exhibiting these symptoms, you may still have a zinc deficiency. Zinc deficiency may impair your ability to absorb water, electrolytes, and nutrients; and, over time, can lead to impaired immune function, growth retardation, and increased sensitivity to cell damage leading to premature aging.In healthy individuals, consuming high levels of zinc usually does not present a health problem. Our bodies are able to extrude most of the zinc it can’t use.   However, consuming too much zinc (more than 40mg per day) is still not recommended and may lead to both acute and chronic zinc toxicity.  Symptoms of acute zinc toxicity include nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and headaches. Long-term toxicity can manifest itself as low copper status, altered iron function, reduced immune function, and reduced levels of high-density lipoproteins (or “good” cholesterol). The only true way to tell how much zinc is being absorbed is to have your blood tested through a service like InsideTracker’s Performance Panel. The Performance Panel measures the thirteen original markers in the Fitness Plus plan, but also tests your levels of testosterone, sodium, potassium, chromium, C-reactive protein, white blood cells, and zinc.Certain diets also put you at greater risk for deficiency. For example, if you’re eating less to lose weight, you may be at greater risk. If you’re following a vegetarian diet, you’re also at a greater risk of zinc deficiency since many of the zinc-rich foods listed above are not present in a vegetarian diet. Vegetarians sometimes require as much as 50 percent more of the RDA for zinc for several reasons: zinc in harder for your body to absorb in non-animal sources than it is in animal sources, and vegetarians typically eat high levels of legumes and whole grains, which contain antioxidant compounds called phytates that bind zinc and inhibit its absorption.As you age, your levels of zinc may decrease so be sure to continue to monitor yourself over time.How to zinc-crease your blood levelsThere are several different ways you can increase the levels of zinc in your blood. The most obvious is to eat more zinc-rich foods, which the InsideTracker Nutrition Page can help you identify. But you can also increase the amount of zinc available in your diet through food preparation techniques, including soaking beans, grains, and seeds in water for several hours to reduce the amount of phytates before cooking and allowing them to sit after soaking until sprouts form. Vegetarians can also increase their zinc intake by consuming more leavened grain products, such as bread, rather than unleavened products, such as crackers. (Leavening partially breaks down phytates, allowing the body to absorb more zinc from leavened grains than unleavened grains.)Lastly, you can talk to your doctor about taking a zinc supplement. As little as 5mg per day of zinc can be enough to improve your zinc blood levels. Keep in mind the following guidelines if you and your doctor decide that a supplement is right for you:Avoid foods rich in phytates (such as broccoli, grains, and legumes) and iron, copper, and calcium supplements, when you take zinc supplements or eat zinc-rich foods (red meat), because they inhibit zinc absorption in your gut. Take zinc supplements with high zinc foods like red meat to increase absorption.When choosing a supplement, remember that zinc sulfate and zinc acetate supplements are absorbed better than zinc oxide and zinc carbonate, which are not soluble.Put a little zinc in your strideAthletes should pay special attention to their zinc consumption. Those who don’t consume enough zinc can suffer significant weight loss, low energy and reduced endurance. They are also at risk for decreased bone mineral density, which can lead to bone fractures (read: sitting on the bench).  Having adequate zinc levels has been shown to improve athletic performance and VO2 max (the maximum capacity of a person’s body to take in and use oxygen during exercise), an indicator of cardiorespiratory endurance.Endurance athletes who follow a high carbohydrate diet that is low in proteins and fats may be at increased risk for zinc deficiency. Long distance runners can deplete zinc stores more quickly than other types of exercise, but engaging in strenuous exercise has also been shown to deplete your levels. The best way to know whether or not you should be supplementing is to get a Performance Panel analysis with InsideTracker. By entering specific information about yourself, InsideTracker can inform you of your optimum levels of zinc and help you get there through diet and lifestyle modifications. Give it a try!