Are You Supplementing With This Immunity-Boosting Essential Mineral?

by
Dr. Ariel Thorpe

During the winter season, the focus turns to the immune system. As the days get colder and shorter, we have less sun exposure to create immune essential vitamin D. We want to bundle up, fostering a warmer environment to keep ourselves more comfortable and create a less hospitable environment for viruses. One of the big questions is what supplements can help create a healthier internal environment. Previous Atlas blogs cover the various vitamins and minerals we need and where to find them in foods. One of the necessary minerals for our immune systems to function correctly is zinc.

Zinc aids in maintaining skin and mucosal membranes, essential components of our innate immune system. Zinc deficiency decreases immune cell functions. A high dose of zinc is also an effective treatment for childhood diarrhea.

There is one zinc superfood: oysters. Even just one oyster can give you more than your entire daily zinc requirement. But if you’re not a shellfish lover, beef, pork, baked beans, dark chicken meat, and pumpkin seeds can also provide the mineral.

However, some foods work against the absorption of zinc. Phytates (naturally occurring acids in plants) bind to zinc in our bodies, keeping the zinc from being absorbed. Phytates are found in whole grain breads, cereals, and legumes. So, separating intake of meats and breads may help zinc absorption.

Whole food sources are always the ideal option for vitamins and minerals but sometimes when we aren’t watching what we eat as much or want to ensure that we’re getting all nutritional needs met, supplements are a helpful addition. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of a vitamin or mineral is an average amount to meet the needs of most healthy people. (This means if someone is in a deficit or dealing with an illness, their needs may be different.) The RDA for zinc in adult males and pregnant women is 11mg per day. The RDA for adult women is 8mg. Lactating adult women require 12mg.

If someone is in deficit, they may need a higher dosage in order to bring them up to a healthy level. When taking a therapeutic dose, it is important to consider the Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL). The UL is the highest amount someone can take without having adverse effects. In the case of zinc, when the dosage reaches 40mg per day, the body starts to lose copper, another essential mineral. For this reason, often you will find zinc supplements also contain a small amount of copper.

There are many forms of zinc, which have different levels of bioavailability (the amount of and speed at which the body can absorb the nutrient). Zinc picolinate may be better absorbed than other forms but can also be more expensive. Zinc gluconate is easily found and cost-effective.

Always speak to your healthcare provider before supplementing.

Sources:

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/zinc-supplements#dosage

https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/

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