Zinc is one of the most common elements on earth and is present in all foods, but that doesn't mean everyone gets enough. A 2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey of dietary intake patterns in the United States, showed that up to 12% of the U.S. population is not getting the recommended dietary intake of zinc. For seniors the figure could be closer to 50%.
Zinc boosts immunity, fights inflammation, and helps create new cells. It's also a key component of the enzymes that help preserve vision and protect against age-related vision loss. In addition, the antioxidant functions of zinc may help protect against cellular damage associated with cancer risk. Zinc is involved in DNA repair and replication.
Yang Song, Ph.D., a researcher with the Linus Pauling Institute points out that "According to the International Zinc Nutrition Consultative Group, approximately two billion people worldwide are at risk for zinc deficiency." Song says, "Zinc deficiency impairs DNA integrity and, thus, increases the cell susceptibility to abnormal growth." She also points out that ". . . zinc is required for the formation and stabilization of protein structure and is essential for the activity of more than 300 enzymes." Those enzymes maintain our ability to repair DNA.
Zinc deficiency is also closely related to prostate cancer. The prostate has one of the highest concentrations of zinc in our soft tissues. Studies suggest that high zinc concentrations may be required for the maintenance of prostate health. Malignant prostate tissue has only 10-25% of the zinc concentrations of healthy prostates.
As we age, we have an increased risk of vision and immunity loss, and for men, prostate cancer. Dr Andrew Weil states that "The animal studies performed at the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University and the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences showed that age-related zinc deficiencies can lead to immune system decline and contribute to the inflammation that underlies cancer, heart disease, autoimmune diseases and diabetes."
Some signs of zinc deficiency are hair loss, weight loss, slowed wound healing, chronic infection, and rough skin or rashes. Symptoms include reduced appetite, depression and mental impairment.
Some natural sources of zinc are oysters, toasted wheat germ, veal liver, low fat roast beef, roasted pumpkin and squash seeds, dried watermelon seeds, dark chocolate and cocoa powder, lamb, peanuts, and crab.
Here are some suggestions for a zinc rich meal: toasted whole grain bread (like that provided by Roman Meal) sandwich with low fat roast beef and cheddar cheese, a side-dish of peas, a green salad with king crab and sesame seeds, and a dessert of low fat yogurt with fruit. A good snack would be dry-roasted cashews or peanuts.
Zinc is essential for maintaining a healthy immune system, interacting with enzymes, and repairing DNA. All of us, but especially the elderly rely, on zinc to keep healthy and active.
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