It's involved in the production of at least 300 enzymes and lends a hand in hundreds of body processes, from producing DNA to repairing cells. The mineral even can help us sleep better at night, which provides a host of additional benefits.
Zinc became a household word as an ingredient in cold lozenges during the 1990s (or you may remember those sun screens from the 1980s that would turn noses white), but physicians and nutritionists have always known it's a mineral that's necessary for good health.
Zinc earns its stripes by promoting immune function to fight illness, supporting healthy cell growth and development, and ensuring a proper sense of taste and smell. It's especially important for men because of its role in maintaining prostate health, testosterone levels and overall sexual health. But since our bodies don't produce zinc, a daily intake is recommended to ensure healthy levels of this critical mineral [source: NIH].
Read on to learn 10 reasons why zinc is so important for men in particular.
10: Boosts Sexual Health and Testosterone Levels
Called "the ultimate sex mineral" by Men's Health magazine, zinc influences a man's fertility, potency, sex drive and long-term sexual health [source: Roman]. Zinc is essential to sperm production, and most men can blame decreased semen volume and testosterone levels on low zinc supplies. In fact, each ejaculation can expend up to 5 milligrams of zinc, or almost half of a man's daily allowance. So if you're getting ready to start a family, a little extra zinc could help boost your fertility.
Scientists at Wayne State University School of Medicine in Michigan investigated the effects of zinc on testosterone levels in men between 20 and 80 years old. The study revealed that young men who restricted dietary zinc intake for 20 weeks experienced decreases in testosterone, while zinc-deficient elderly men taking zinc supplements for six months experienced increases in testosterone production.
The good news is that it's easy to keep your body's zinc stores in check. Four ounces (113 grams) of lean beef provide half the daily recommendation; oysters are another good source. Zinc is also abundant in turkey, cereals and beans [source: Roman].
9: Sperm on the Move
If fatherhood is in your future plans, it's not enough that you have a healthy sex drive and healthy sperm in sufficient numbers. Those little guys need to get moving.
Sperm motility refers to the strength and the endurance of sperm cells to swim toward the egg in order to fertilize it. And low sperm motility is one of the main causes of male infertility.
Sperm motility is measured differently than sperm count. Instead of a total count, sperm motility reflects the percentage of the sperm that are moving forward. If you have a sperm motility count below 50 percent, vitamin and nutrition deficiencies -- including inadequate levels of zinc -- could be part of the problem. Again, incorporate foods that are rich in zinc, such as seafood, liver and lean cuts of red meat, as well as nuts and grains, into your diet.
8: Reduces Risk of Prostate Cancer
Zinc plays an important role in maintaining and improving prostate health. Recently, scientists at Johns Hopkins University and the Agricultural Research Service (the research arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture) found that cancerous prostate tissue contains significantly less zinc than healthy organ tissue. While zinc is found in every organ, tissue and cell in the human body, in males, the prostate has more zinc than any other tissue except bone.
As men get older, they tend to exercise less and their diets change as well, often causing them to fall short of the recommended daily allowance of zinc. Men who don't have significant levels of zinc in their diets tend to have higher instances of enlarged prostate (benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH) and prostatis (an inflammation of the prostate). They also have higher prostate cancer rates.
So you can feel good about enjoying an occasional handful of nuts, now that you know a little extra zinc in the diet can help decrease in your chances of getting prostate cancer.
7: Minimizes Cold Symptoms
Feeling a case of sneezes and sniffles coming on? You might be able to curtail your convalescence: There's some evidence that zinc can help reduce the duration of colds or lessen the symptoms.
Zinc lozenges became a popular cold remedy when a 1996 report published by the Cleveland Clinic said that zinc could help reduce a cold's impact by reducing its severity and duration. A study of 100 people who had cold systems for less than 24 hours took zinc lozenges every two hours; half took a placebo. The zinc users reported that their cold symptoms lasted an average of 4.4 days, compared with 7.6 days for those who used the placebo. Some scientists, however, believe that zinc's effectiveness may be exaggerated somewhat [source: Gawande].
How does zinc work to stop colds in their tracks? The mineral gets into parts of the body where the cold virus attacks, making symptoms less severe.
So if your throat feels scratchy, reaching for a zinc lozenge may help you get back to your healthy self more quickly, without being sidelined from the big game or a major presentation.
6: Helps Fight Acne
Are skin breakouts bringing you down? Here's some good news: Zinc may help to treat and prevent acne. In fact, some forms of acne may even be caused by a zinc deficiency. Whether it's taken as a supplement or applied in a topical ointment in the form of zinc gluconate or zinc sulfate, zinc can help acne blemishes heal faster, reduce inflammation caused by acne and help regulate the skin's oil gland activity caused by changing hormones.
Zinc plays an important role in overall skin health, and it may also treat eczema, psoriasis, dandruff, burns and boils. It also helps skin wounds heal faster.
Don't take more than 100 milligrams a day for acne -- higher doses can increase the risk of prostate cancer. Remember, you can find also find zinc in delicious food sources including oysters, lean meat and poultry.
5: May Prevent or Treat Baldness
Do you enjoy sitting down to a thick, juicy steak? Now there's a good reason to indulge: Eating lean cuts of beef could actually help slow down the process of going bald. Alopecia can present itself in a variety of ways -- from minimal hair thinning to complete baldness -- and it can pop up due to heredity or result from certain mineral deficiencies. Zinc can encourage hair growth by improving immune system function [source: HolisticOnline].
According to a study in Australia, men who ate lean cuts of meat were less likely to go bald than those who ate fatty cuts of meat. One of the reasons is that beef is an excellent source of zinc, and not getting enough zinc can lead to sudden hair loss [source: Flynn].
Zinc supplements can help guard against hair loss in men who don't eat a balanced diet. The suggested dosage for hair loss is 50 to 100 milligrams a day, and zinc supplements can be found at your pharmacy or a health food store.
4: From A (alcohol) to Z (zinc)
Studies show that low zinc levels in adults can be related to alcohol-induced liver damage [source: Kang]. Supplemental zinc, however, can help reduce that damage, in part because it promotes the enzymes that dissipate alcohol.
Zinc has also been found to improve the antioxidant capabilities of the liver, as well as boost a main metal detoxifying compound called metallothionein, or MT. Low MT levels sensitize the liver to potential damage. By stabilizing the gastrointestinal tract, MT can help keep inflammation to a minimum [source: Richards].
Similarly, alcohol consumption can drive down the zinc levels in the thyroid, which can result in a host of medical issues, including compromised thyroid performance and subsequent weight gain.
3: Fire up Your Immune System
Oftentimes, we can be our own best medical advocates. By keeping to a diet rich in antioxidant vitamins and nutrients, we can boost our immune systems to ward off a litany of ailments and infection. Our bodies produce molecules that can damage cells, called free radicals. Antioxidants such as zinc help neutralize these potentially dangerous free radicals.
Researchers believe that when the balance between free radicals and antioxidants is upset, it can contribute to developing cancer and heart disease, as well as age-related diseases [source: WebMD]. To get enough antioxidants in your diet, experts recommend eating an abundance of brightly colored fruits and vegetables, including berries, citrus fruits, kiwi, apples, red grapes, kale, onions, spinach, sweet potatoes and carrots.
Zinc also not only increases the production of white blood cells that fight infection, but also helps them fight more aggressively. It also increases killer cells that fight against cancer and helps white cells release more antibodies. Zinc increases the number of infection-fighting T-cells, especially in elderly people who are often deficient in zinc and whose immune system may weaken with age [source: NIH].
2: Zinc and Your Thyroid
Zinc is a key mineral that helps produce thyroid-releasing hormones, or TRH, in your brain, which then signals your pituitary to make thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). In men, the failure to do this also results in low testosterone levels. According to several studies, low zinc levels are associated with low T3 (active thyroid hormone), and a reduced ability to convert T4 (see sidebar) to T3 [source: Richards]. Alcohol use can exacerbate this situation. If you're dealing with low thyroid symptoms and consume any amount of alcohol, consider taking supplemental zinc.
Furthermore, zinc is required at the intracellular level to help the thyroid nuclear receptors attach and drive the reading of the DNA genetic code. Remember, a primary function of thyroid hormone is to help put the genetic code into action, which underscores the importance of maintaining proper zinc levels [source: Shames].
1: Zinc and Cell Repair
Men can be hard on their bodies. And the more active we are -- whether at work, in the gym or in the yard -- the more stress we put on our muscular-skeletal system. Coincidentally, most of our personal stores of zinc are found our muscles, where its role in cell building and repair is particularly useful after strenuous activities.
The very act of exercising -- from weight training to running to raking the lawn -- puts our muscles under stress. We literally break them down, on a cellular level, when we use them. While at rest, our muscles grow back bigger and stronger. Zinc is a key component in this process, from providing proper structure to cells and proteins to helping us get the rest that the process requires.
Furthermore, muscles at work expend considerable energy, leading to the production of free radicals. Intense training can result in heavy sweating and inadequate caloric intake, both of which can lead to insufficient levels of zinc. Since zinc's role as an antioxidant is crucial to mitigating the adverse effects of free radicals, anyone undergoing a rigorous fitness regimen should monitor their zinc intake to make sure they maintain adequate levels.
Lots More Information
- 10 Important Vitamins for Men's Health
- 5 Important Men's Health Supplements
- 10 Health Tips for Men Over 30
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- DoctorOz.com. "Daily Dose: Zinc." Oct. 14, 2009. (Feb. 27, 2011) http://www.doctoroz.com/videos/daily-dose-zinc.
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- Richards, Byron. "Zinc, Alcohol Damage, and Thyroid Function." WellnessResources.com. (March 26, 2012) http://www.wellnessresources.com/weight/articles/zinc_alcohol_damage_and_thyroid_function/
- Roman, Mark. "Your sexual appetite: What you eat can make a big difference in how you make love." Men's Health. June 6, 2003. (Feb. 27, 2011)http://www.menshealth.com/sex-women/sex-diet-foods-and-menu
- Sears, M.D., Bill. "8 Foods that Boost Immunity." AskDrSears.com. (March 26, 2012) http://www.askdrsears.com/topics/family-nutrition/foods-boost-immunity/8-foods-boost-immunity
- Shames M.D., Richard. "The Top Five Supplements for Thyroid Support." Thyroid-Info.com. Revised, 2007. (March 26, 2012) http://www.thyroid-info.com/articles/topsupplements.htm
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