When thinking about zinc, probably the first thing that comes to mind is immune support. If you start to feel like you’re getting sick, take some zinc! What if you are dealing with bouts of acne, eczema, low thyroid, depression or loss of appetite? Again, it’s zinc to the rescue! This miracle mineral has even been found to help kids with learning or behavioral disorders, including ADHD and aggression issues.

Unfortunately, zinc deficiency is believed to negatively impact over 2 billion people worldwide! That probably means for most of us, just eating a healthy diet is not enough to obtain adequate amounts of this important mineral. Zinc is found in beef, eggs, and seafood. Foods like legumes, wheat, and spinach that once contained abundant amounts of minerals like zinc are only as nutritious as the soil in which they’re grown. Even many seemingly wholesome foods are grown in nutrient depleted soils, leaving them lacking in nutrients.

Here are just a few of the important roles zinc plays in the body:

Zinc and the Immune System
One of zinc’s most important functions in the body is undeniably supporting the immune system. The primary type of immune cells activated and supported by zinc are the T cells. These white blood cells seek out and destroy infected cells in the body. T cell function is impaired when zinc is deficient, which allows viral and bacterial invaders to roam around unmonitored and wreak havoc within the body.

A study performed by scientists at the University of Florida supports the beneficial role that supplementing with zinc has on supporting the immune system and T cell health. This investigation found that healthy humans taking 15 mg of zinc per day had significantly improved T cell function, and a higher ability to ward off infections. This is important to keep in mind, especially with cold and flu season ahead!

Zinc and Mental Health
Zinc deficiency is often overlooked as a major contributor to depression. Lack of zinc leads to changes in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex parts of the brain. The hippocampus shrinks when under high levels of stress, depression, and neurodegeneration.

A recent study found that animals fed a diet restricted in zinc had depression, poor motivation, an inability to experience pleasure, and withdrew from social behavior. However, when adequate zinc levels were present, areas of the brain involved with motivation and pleasure, the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, were not adversely affected. Also, the helpful repair molecule in the brain, BDNF, was kept at healthy levels when the diet was rich in zinc.

Zinc for Thyroid Support
Zinc is also a necessary cofactor mineral for thyroid hormone function. The hypothalamus requires zinc to make TRH, the hormone it uses to signal the pituitary gland to activate the thyroid to secrete T3 and T4. Therefore, with decreased zinc levels, the thyroid gland is likely to be underactive. Zinc also plays an important role in converting T4 to T3 and is needed to bind active thyroid hormone to the DNA of cells.

Signs of low zinc may include brittle nails, white spots on the fingernails, body odor, hair loss, fatigue, low sex drive, and adult acne. Those at the greatest risk of being deficient in zinc include vegans/vegetarians, the elderly, athletes who perspire a lot, pregnant women, and people with chronic digestive disorders. Women should take up to 50 mg of zinc per day and men up to 75 mg per day. It is best to take a high quality zinc supplement, like zinc picolinate, that also contains copper to balance the zinc. Whatever your zinc needs may be, high quality zinc supplementation can help bridge the gap where the Standard American Diet may fall short.