The Consequences of Not Enough Zinc

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Consequences of Not Enough ZincZinc is an essential nutrient needed for a long, long list of bodily processes. A new study, on animals, has shown for the first time how zinc deficiency can happen with age—and what it can lead to. This includes inflammation, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and autoimmune disease.

The health breakthrough is out of Oregon State University. It suggests that it’s especially important for elderly people to get adequate dietary intake of zinc—since their levels of the mineral may naturally be declining.

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Four in 10 older U.S. adults maintain a diet that is deficient in zinc, making it an underappreciated micronutrient. Researchers found that older animals had seriously disrupted “zinc transporters.” They showed signs of zinc deficiency and had signs of more inflammation even when their diet had adequate amounts of zinc. When these animals received 10 times their dietary requirement for zinc, the levels of inflammation dropped down to those of a younger age.

Many studies have shown that zinc deficiency can cause DNA damage. Now we know it can trigger widespread inflammation. Excessive inflammation is a very serious problem, linked to a wide range of degenerative diseases. That includes cancer and heart disease. Thus, inflammation is at the root of diseases that the majority of us die from.

To protect against this, older adults must pay more attention to the amount of zinc they are getting. Since our bodies don’t absorb it from food as well when we are older, experts recommend all aging adults pop a supplement that includes the full recommended daily allowance for zinc. That is 11 milligrams a day for men and eight for women. In food, seafood and meat are highest in zinc, but we don’t absorb it as well from grains and vegetables.

Zinc is essential to protect against oxidative stress and help repair DNA damage. With too little zinc, the body’s ability to repair genetic damage may be decreasing even as the amount of damage is going up. And, that is the process by which cancer begins. Tests for zinc deficiency are not commonly done, so it is up to you to ensure you are getting enough of this mineral each day.

Importantly, do not ever take over 40 milligrams of zinc a day. At high levels, it interferes with absorption of other necessary nutrients, such as iron and copper.