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Zinc article

Zinc: what it is and why your body needs it

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Zinc is a mineral your body can’t function without. Learn why – and how to ensure you’re consuming enough of it.

While there are only 13 different vitamins, there are hundreds of minerals, everything from calcium and iron to copper, manganese and sodium. And amongst those considered most important to keep us healthy is zinc, a trace mineral essential to many bodily functions including immune health.

The trouble is, more than one in three Australian men and one in ten women aren’t consuming enough of it according to the 2011-13 Australian Health Survey (AHS). Here’s why that matters so much, and what you can do to keep your zinc levels in good shape.

The benefits of zinc

There are a few reasons why zinc is so good for you, like the fact that it supports…

  • The health and function of your immune system. Like vitamin C, your immune system needs zinc in order to do its job properly. For one thing, the body requires zinc to develop and activate T-lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell that helps to protect the body from infection. It may explain why some people who are low in zinc are more susceptible to certain infections.
  • Skin health and wound healing. Zinc not only helps to maintain the condition of skin, it’s required to help heal wounds. This is so much the case that one warning sign of zinc deficiency is when wounds don’t seem to be healing. So, what’s so good about zinc for the skin? As well as the role it plays in the immune system, zinc is also involved in the formation of collagen, which is vital for at least one phase of the wound-healing process.
  • Sperm and male reproductive health. Zinc plays an essential role in male reproductive health and particularly in the production of healthy sperm that has good motility, or movement. One explanation for this is the fact that zinc is an antioxidant. Another is that zinc helps to balance the hormones that are involved in sperm production.
  • Food sources of zinc

    A wide variety of foods contain zinc, with protein-rich foods like oysters, seafood, red meat and poultry containing the largest amounts.

    Some plant-based foods, including wholegrains, legumes, nuts and beans, are also good sources, but many of these also contain things called phytates; compounds that bind zinc and inhibit its absorption. As a result, the bioavailability of zinc from grains and plant foods tends to be lower than that from animal foods, and following a vegetarian diet may increase the risk of zinc deficiency.

    Need-to-know info about zinc supplements

    People who find it difficult to obtain enough zinc through their diet may benefit from taking a zinc supplement, bearing in mind that one of the biggest causes of low zinc levels is the fact that, like one in three Australian men and one in ten women, people aren’t eating enough zinc-rich foods(2011-13 Australian Health Survey (AHS)).

    Taking a zinc supplement may also be useful when you’re trying to maintain or support a healthy immune system function, or if you’re at an increased risk of zinc deficiency. On top of following a vegetarian diet, factors that increase the risk of zinc deficiency include experiencing prolonged periods of stress or infection, drinking too much alcohol. and living with a long-term digestive problem.