Zinc: The Essential Trace Mineral Needed for Growth

by Melissa Chichester

Most of us are familiar with the big hitter essential minerals like calcium, magnesium, and potassium, but sometimes the essential trace minerals are forgotten about. Trace minerals are vital to health but are needed by the body in small amounts, contributing to a variety of functions including immune system support, protein formation, and bone support.* One of these essential trace minerals is zinc, which plays an important role in the body and is best known for supporting immune health.*

The history of zinc

Zinc has been used since ancient times all around the world, known by the Romans, in India, Cyprus, and it was found in prehistoric ruins in Romania. The origins of zinc are not well-known and it is debated who actually discovered the element. One belief goes back to 1526, where zinc was named by alchemist and astrologer Paracelsus, after the German word “zinke,” which means “pointed.” Some believe that “zinke” originally came from Persia, from a word meaning “sing.” Others credit Andreas Marggraf, a German chemist, with the discovery in 1746; however, it wasn’t until 1963 that zinc and its impact on health was studied. Zinc is a silver-white metal that tarnishes when it hits the air. Used to prevent other metals from rusting, zinc is often added to other metals, like galvanized steel. It is also added to other metals to create alloys (to add more strength to the existing metal). Zinc is also added to many other products, including sunscreen, lozenges, cosmetics, soaps, and even paint!

Food sources of zinc

Most children, young adults, and adults receive enough zinc through their diets. The richest food source of zinc is oysters; however, many other foods are rich in zinc, especially red meat and poultry. This includes crab, beef, pork, and lobster. Dairy products, sunflower seeds, fortified cereals, oatmeal, and kidney beans are all sources of zinc.

Zinc in the body

Zinc is an essential trace mineral that all living beings need to support well-being. Involved in the function of over 300 enzymes in the body, zinc assists in DNA formation, as it is needed for the growth and division of cells.* Zinc also acts as an antioxidant in the body and supports the immune system, in addition to assisting with the balancing of the insulin hormone.* According to the National Institutes of Health, the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) for zinc in adults over the age of 19 is eleven milligrams for men, and eight milligrams for women. The NIH also suggests that while younger adults typically consume enough dietary zinc, adults over the age of 60 consume less than the RDA.

Other unique facts about zinc

Zinc found just about everywhere. Here are some other interesting ways zinc is used:

  • Pennies produced before 1983 are made of 97.5% zinc and then coated in copper.
  • Zinc is the fourth most widely used metal in the world.
  • Zinc is the 23rd most abundant element in Earth’s crust.
  • Zinc is the second most common trace metal.
  • Writing from 400 BC cites a metal used to make brass, most likely zinc.
  • 30% of today’s zinc production comes from recycling.