Zinc is a kind of metallic chemical element. It is considered to be a transition metal, similar to nickel and mercury. It has the chemical symbol of ZN with an atomic number of 30. In its pure form it has a kind of light blue color. It tends to be quite brittle at room temperature but, once it is heated, it transforms into something very soft and easy to shape. In fact, it is often added to other metals in order to make them more malleable.
People have been using zinc for centuries. The ancient Hindi civilization were the first to find many applications for it. By the 1500s, though, it made its way to Europe via trade. There, it was considered rare and was quite expensive to obtain. Today, however, people have found many zinc sources and it is considered a relatively abundant chemical.
Zinc is used to make metal alloys and is usually an ingredient in making batteries and coins. Zinc oxide, on the other hand, is an ingredient in sun screen. Zinc is also needed by the body. An average person needs 11 mg of zinc ever day; lack of zinc can lead to hair loss and diarrhea. Too much zinc, on the other hand, can cause anemia. Luckily it is possible to get the recommended daily allowance of zinc through food. Some foods that are rich in zinc are seeds and whole grains. However, it is also possible to get zinc supplements, or on the other hand, multi-vitamins that are enriched with zinc.
Zinc is included in most single tablet over-the-counter daily vitamin and mineral supplements. It is believed to possess antioxidant properties, which protect against accelerated aging of the skin and muscles of the body, although studies differ as to its effectiveness. Zinc also helps speed up the healing process after an injury.
The efficacy of zinc compounds when used to reduce the duration or severity of cold symptoms is controversial. Zinc gluconate glycine and zinc acetate are used in throat lozenges or tablets to reduce the duration and the severity of cold symptoms. Preparations include zinc oxide, zinc acetate, and zinc gluconate.
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Zinc preparations can protect against sunburn in the summer and windburn in the winter. Applied thinly to a baby’s diaper area (perineum) with each diaper change, it can protect against diaper rash.
The Age-Related Eye Disease Study determined that zinc can be part of an effective treatment for age-related macular degeneration. Zinc supplementation is an effective treatment for acrodermatitis enteropathica, a genetic disorder affecting zinc absorption that was previously fatal to babies born with it.
Zinc lactate is used in toothpaste to prevent halitosis. Zinc pyrithione is widely applied in shampoos because of its anti-dandruff function Zinc ions are effective antimicrobial agents even at low concentrations. Gastroenteritis is strongly attenuated by ingestion of zinc, and this effect could be due to direct antimicrobial action of the zinc ions in the gastrointestinal tract, or to the absorption of the zinc and re-release from immune cells (all granulocytes secrete zinc), or both
Zinc is an essential trace element, necessary for plants, animals, and microorganisms. Zinc is found in nearly 100 specific enzymes (other sources say 300), serves as structural ions in transcription factors and is stored and transferred in metallothioneins. It is “typically the second most abundant transition metal [ sic ] in organisms” after iron and it is the only metal which appears in all enzyme classes.
In proteins, Zn ions are often coordinated to the amino acid side chains of aspartic acid, glutamic acid, cysteine and histidine. The theoretical and computational description of this zinc binding in proteins (as well as that of other transition metals) is difficult.
There are 2–4 grams of zinc distributed throughout the human body. Most zinc is in the brain, muscle, bones, kidney, and liver, with the highest concentrations in the prostate and parts of the eye. Semen is particularly rich in zinc, which is a key factor in prostate gland function and reproductive organ growth.
In humans, zinc plays “ubiquitous biological roles”. It interacts with “a wide range of organic ligands”, and has roles in the metabolism of RNA and DNA, signal transduction, and gene expression. It also regulates apoptosis. A 2006 study estimated that about 10% of human proteins (2800) potentially bind zinc, in addition to hundreds which transport and traffic zinc; a similar in silico study in the plant Arabidopsis thaliana found 2367 zinc-related proteins.
In the brain, zinc is stored in specific synaptic vesicles by glutamatergic neurons and can “modulate brain excitability”. It plays a key role in synaptic plasticity and so in learning. However it has been called “the brain’s dark horse” since it also can be a neurotoxin, suggesting zinc homeostasis plays a critical role in normal functioning of the brain and central nervous system
Zinc is a good Lewis acid, making it a useful catalytic agent in hydroxylation and other enzymatic reactions. The metal also has a flexible coordination geometry, which allows proteins using it to rapidly shift conformations to perform biological reactions. Two examples of zinc-containing enzymes are carbonic anhydrase and carboxypeptidase, which are vital to the processes of carbon dioxide (CO2) regulation and digestion of proteins, respectively.
In vertebrate blood, carbonic anhydrase converts CO2 into bicarbonate and the same enzyme transforms the bicarbonate back into CO2 for exhalation through the lungs. Without this enzyme, this conversion would occur about one million times slower at the normal blood pH of 7 or would require a pH of 10 or more. The non-related ?-carbonic anhydrase is required in plants for leaf formation, the synthesis of indole acetic acid (auxin) and anaerobic respiration (alcoholic fermentation).
Carboxypeptidase cleaves peptide linkages during digestion of proteins. A coordinate covalent bond is formed between the terminal peptide and a C=O group attached to zinc, which gives the carbon a positive charge. This helps to create a hydrophobic pocket on the enzyme near the zinc, which attracts the non-polar part of the protein being digested.
Zinc serves a purely structural role in zinc fingers, twists and clusters. Zinc fingers form parts of some transcription factors, which are proteins that recognize DNA base sequences during the replication and transcription of DNA. Each of the nine or ten Zn2+ ions in a zinc finger helps maintain the finger’s structure by coordinately binding to four amino acids in the transcription factor. The transcription factor wraps around the DNA helix and uses its fingers to accurately bind to the DNA sequence.
In blood plasma, zinc is bound to and transported by albumin (60%, low-affinity) and transferrin (10%). Since transferrin also transports iron, excessive iron reduces zinc absorption, and vice-versa. A similar reaction occurs with copper. The concentration of zinc in blood plasma stays relatively constant regardless of zinc intake. Cells in the salivary gland, prostate, immune system and intestine use zinc signaling as one way to communicate with other cells.
Zinc may be held in metallothionein reserves within microorganisms or in the intestines or liver of animals. Metallothionein in intestinal cells is capable of adjusting absorption of zinc by 15–40%. However, inadequate or excessive zinc intake can be harmful; excess zinc particularly impairs copper absorption because metallothionein absorbs both metals
Foods and spices containing zincIn the U.S., the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is 8 mg/day for women and 11 mg/day for men. Median intake in the U.S. around 2000 was 9 mg/day for women and 14 mg/day in men. Red meats, especially beef, lamb and liver have some of the highest concentrations of zinc in food.
The concentration of zinc in plants varies based on levels of the element in soil. When there is adequate zinc in the soil, the food plants that contain the most zinc are wheat (germ and bran) and various seeds (sesame, poppy, alfalfa, celery, mustard). Zinc is also found in beans, nuts, almonds, whole grains, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and blackcurrant.
Other sources include fortified food and dietary supplements, which come in various forms. A 1998 review concluded that zinc oxide, one of the most common supplements in the United States, and zinc carbonate are nearly insoluble and poorly absorbed in the body. This review cited studies which found low plasma zinc concentrations after zinc oxide and zinc carbonate were consumed compared with those seen after consumption of zinc acetate and sulfate salts. However, harmful excessive supplementation is a problem among the relatively affluent, and should probably not exceed 20 mg/day in healthy people, although the U.S. National Research Council set a Tolerable Upper Intake of 40 mg/day.
For fortification, however, a 2003 review recommended zinc oxide in cereals as cheap, stable, and as easily absorbed as more expensive forms. A 2005 study found that various compounds of zinc, including oxide and sulfate, did not show statistically significant differences in absorption when added as fortificants to maize tortillas. A 1987 study found that zinc picolinate was better absorbed than zinc gluconate or zinc citrate. However, a study published in 2008 determined that zinc glycinate is the best absorbed of the four dietary supplement types available.
Zinc deficiency is usually due to insufficient dietary intake, but can be associated with malabsorption, acrodermatitis enteropathica, chronic liver disease, chronic renal disease, sickle cell disease, diabetes, malignancy, and other chronic illnesses. Symptoms of mild zinc deficiency are diverse. Clinical outcomes include depressed growth, diarrhea, impotence and delayed sexual maturation, alopecia, eye and skin lesions, impaired appetite, altered cognition, impaired host defense properties, defects in carbohydrate utilization, and reproductive teratogenesis. Mild zinc deficiency depresses immunity, although excessive zinc does also. Animals with a diet deficient in zinc require twice as much food in order to attain the same weight gain as animals given sufficient zinc.
Groups at risk for zinc deficiency include the elderly, vegetarians, and those with renal insufficiency. The zinc chelator phytate, found in seeds and cereal bran, can contribute to zinc malabsorption in those with heavily vegetarian diets. There is a paucity of adequate zinc biomarkers, and the most widely used indicator, plasma zinc, has poor sensitivity and specificity. Diagnosing zinc deficiency is a persistent challenge.
Nearly two billion people in the developing world are deficient in zinc. In children it causes an increase in infection and diarrhea, contributing to the death of about 800,000 children worldwide per year. The World Health Organization advocates zinc supplementation for severe malnutrition and diarrhea. Zinc supplements help prevent disease and reduce mortality, especially among children with low birth weight or stunted growth. However, zinc supplements should not be administered alone, since many in the developing world have several deficiencies, and zinc interacts with other micronutrients.
Zinc deficiency is crop plants’ most common micronutrient deficiency; it is particularly common in high-pH soils. Zinc-deficient soil is cultivated in the cropland of about half of Turkey and India, a third of China, and most of Western Australia, and substantial responses to zinc fertilization have been reported in these areas. Plants that grow in soils that are zinc-deficient are more susceptible to disease. Zinc is primarily added to the soil through the weathering of rocks, but humans have added zinc through fossil fuel combustion, mine waste, phosphate fertilizers, limestone, manure, sewage sludge, and particles from galvanized surfaces. Excess zinc is toxic to plants, although zinc toxicity is far less widespread.
Although zinc is an essential requirement for good health, excess zinc can be harmful. Excessive absorption of zinc suppresses copper and iron absorption. The free zinc ion in solution is highly toxic to plants, invertebrates, and even vertebrate fish. The Free Ion Activity Model is well-established in the literature, and shows that just micromolar amounts of the free ion kills some organisms. A recent example showed 6 micromolar killing 93% of all Daphnia in water.
The free zinc ion is a powerful Lewis acid up to the point of being corrosive. Stomach acid contains hydrochloric acid, in which metallic zinc dissolves readily to give corrosive zinc chloride. Swallowing a post-1982 American one cent piece (97.5% zinc) can cause damage to the stomach lining due to the high solubility of the zinc ion in the acidic stomach.
There is evidence of induced copper deficiency at low intakes of 100–300 mg Zn/day; a recent trial had higher hospitalizations for urinary complications compared to placebo among elderly men taking 80 mg/day. The USDA RDA is 15 mg Zn/day. Even lower levels, closer to the RDA, may interfere with the utilization of copper and iron or adversely affect cholesterol. Levels of zinc in excess of 500 ppm in soil interfere with the ability of plants to absorb other essential metals, such as iron and manganese. There is also a condition called the zinc shakes or “zinc chills” that can be induced by the inhalation of freshly formed zinc oxide formed during the welding of galvanized materials.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has stated that zinc damages nerve receptors in the nose, which can cause anosmia. Reports of anosmia were also observed in the 1930s when zinc preparations were used in a failed attempt to prevent polio infections. On June 16, 2009, the FDA said that consumers should stop using zinc-based intranasal cold products and ordered their removal from store shelves. The FDA said the loss of smell can be life-threatening because people with impaired smell cannot detect leaking gas or smoke and cannot tell if food has spoiled before they eat it. Recent research suggests that the topical antimicrobial zinc pyrithione is a potent heat shock response inducer that may impair genomic integrity with induction of PARP-dependent energy crisis in cultured human keratinocytes and melanocytes.
In 1982, the United States Mint began minting pennies coated in copper but made primarily of zinc. With the new zinc pennies, there is the potential for zinc toxicosis, which can be fatal. One reported case of chronic ingestion of 425 pennies (over 1 kg of zinc) resulted in death due to gastrointestinal bacterial and fungal sepsis, while another patient, who ingested 12 grams of zinc, only showed lethargy and ataxia (gross lack of coordination of muscle movements). Several other cases have been reported of humans suffering zinc intoxication by the ingestion of zinc coins.
Pennies and other small coins are sometimes ingested by dogs, resulting in the need for medical treatment to remove the foreign body. The zinc content of some coins can cause zinc toxicity, which is commonly fatal in dogs, where it causes a severe hemolytic anemia, and also liver or kidney damage; vomiting and diarrhea are possible symptoms. Zinc is highly toxic in parrots and poisoning can often be fatal. The consumption of fruit juices stored in galvanized cans has resulted in mass parrot poisonings with zinc
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