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Take Zinc for Healthy Bodies and Minds
By Christine Climer
Did you know that zinc deficiency ranks 11th out of the top 20 risk factors for disease? Yes, zinc! According to the World Health Organization, zinc deficiencies are responsible for 16% of lower respiratory infections (such as pneumonia) and 10% of diarrheal illness worldwide.
While severe zinc deficiency is rare, mild deficiency is quite common. Zinc forms a part of at least 200 enzymes in our bodies. Those enzymes play a part in numerous functions:
• physical growth
• wound healing
• strong immune function
• sexual maturation and fertility
• hormone levels (including insulin)
• skin, hair and nail quality
• sensory perception
• brain function
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When to think zinc
Though most of us are able to get enough zinc in our everyday diets, there may be times when we just need more than normal. Your body may have increased demand for zinc if you are pregnant or nursing, if you have diarrhea or if you consume alcohol. Stress, illness and injury may also increase your requirement for zinc.
Your child may have an increased zinc demand if he is a preemie, if he has ADHD or if he is entering a period of rapid growth such as adolescence. Vegetarians may require up to 50% more zinc than those consuming meats because the fiber and phytates in plant foods interfere with zinc absorption. For information on your family’s specific recommended daily intake, visit the Food and Nutrition Board’s guide.
If a little is good …
In the case of zinc, a lot is definitely not better. Too much zinc can cause nausea, vomiting, iron deficiency and poor immune function. The National Academy of Sciences has established a safe “upper level” for zinc dosage. This is the highest daily dosage associated with no adverse effects under normal circumstances. You should not take more that the upper level unless you are instructed to do so by your health care provider.
Infants up to 6 months 4 mg
Infants 7-12 months 5 mg
Children 1-3 years 7 mg
Children 4-8 years 12 mg
Children 9-13 years 23 mg
Children 14-18 years 34 mg
Adults 40 mg
Zinc supplements should not be combined with certain medications. Speak with your physician before taking zinc if you are on antibiotics, hydralazine, immunosuppressant medication or NSAID. Also, avoid taking zinc along with iron, calcium or copper, since these minerals interfere with each other’s absorption.
Martin M. “Zinc- Contributing to Better Health.” International Zinc Association, February 2004.
National Institute of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements
University of Maryland Medicine, Complementary Medicine Program website
World Health Organization. “The World Health Report 2002: Reducing Risks, Promoting Healthy Life.”
© Christine Climer
Christine Climer is a registered nurse with experience in pulmonary disease, pediatrics, home health and hospice services. Also trained in early childhood education, she is currently executive director and child care nurse for an early childhood health promotion organization. She lives with her husband and three children (including a set of twins) in Texas and enjoys researching health issues and gardening.