Zinc-an unsung hero

The very first word of malnutrition will direct many imaginative minds to dry, deserted African land but in reality, more than 60% of the world population is under Zinc deficiency without awareness. Yes, this micro-nutrient plays a significant role than we imagine. Before the invention of the water purifier, the level of zinc deficiency was less than 30% but now, the tables have turned upside-down and affected almost all the industrialized countries. Why this trace element’s absence makes it worrisome?

History and properties of zinc
The first discovery of this element was marked in Vedic texts (Rasaratna Samuchaya and aarthasastra)in ayurvedic scripts during 2B.C-3B.C itself and south-India was first to name this metal as Tutthanagaa (zinc). They are widely used as an alloy in utensils for medicinal preparations and construction purposes.

Also, Egyptians and Romans around 200B.C.E used zinc but for producing brass and as laboratory utensils (crucible) but their nutritional values were found during 1869 by accidental research on Aspergillus niger by Raulin, later their growth developmental properties were recognized and production was encouraged during the industrial revolution. And they are overshadowed by the use of iron and copper.

Absorption of zinc:
They don’t need specialized cells to be absorbed into our system; zinc is one such metal ion that can enter via any cells and regions, yet their absorption is widely found in the intestinal gut region, and directly absorbed by hepatic cells, also by RBC.

List of biochemical importance of zinc:

1. Involves in the catalytic role

2. Structural component of protein

3. Regulatory functions in cellular metabolism

4. Communicator between cells

5. Removes carbon dioxide

6. Protector of insulin

Overview of metabolic role by zinc
From day-to-day exposure to toxic molecules like cadmium, phthalates, etc. zinc acts as a knight and removes these without causing overall toxicity to cells and protects us. Also, their major role is to act as a catalytic cofactor which is to make reactions faster to reach an optimistic product like how a food processor is more efficient than a mortar and pestle to make a sauce, and in the pancreas, it is a key element to maintain the action of insulin on glucose. Further, the structural role of zinc is to maintain the protein’s configuration and restore them even after massive damage.

Make a daily reminder to thank this zinc cause without them we can’t enjoy how beautiful our world is because they act as a metalloprotein and transports vitamin A to our cornea for vision. Because of their ubiquitous nature, they are present vastly in our cells and signals them co-ordinately which makes irony to call them a trace element. Begin a best friend to iron their combat action together as immune responder (thymic hormone) fascinates many researchers in this area.

zinc distribution in cells

Consequences and causes of zinc deficiency

Due to the multitude of basic biochemical functions of zinc in the cells of the human body, there is a broad range of physiological signs of zinc deficiency. The causes of zinc deficiency include malnutrition, alcoholism, malabsorption, extensive burns, chronic debilitating disorders, chronic renal diseases, diuretics in some cases, and genetic disorders such as acrodermatitis enteropathica and sickle cell disease.

These signs vary depending on the severity of the condition. Organ systems known to be affected clinically by zinc deficiency states include the epidermal, gastrointestinal, central nervous, immune, skeletal, and reproductive systems. Industrialized countries were clinically most affected.

List of diseases caused by zinc deficiency:
1. Chronic liver diseases
2. Age-related macular degeneration. (blurred/no vision)
3. Repetitive infections
4. Lack of effective action by T&B cells (immune cells)
5. Regular URI
6. Impaired growth & development.

Bio-availability refers to the fraction of intake that can be absorbed into the blood system and used for physiologic functions of the body. In the case of zinc, there is no specific vegetable or fruit which are highly rich in zinc, as all the products acquire the required amount of this element. Yet, its value can be increased by taking phytic acids which are rich in cereals, legumes. Also, Proteins generally have a positive influence on zinc absorption, because zinc absorption tends to increase with protein intake in the gastrointestinal region and try to consume partially purified water with added required minerals.

Did you know that zinc acts antagonistically to copper thus it is an excellent element to treat Wilson’s disease.

The newly industrialized countries like India, Mexico, etc. have overcome this problem skilfully by making these rice, wheat, and cereals rich in zinc with the help of transgenic plants and these governments focus on intrinsic enrichment of micronutrients in plant parts that are used for food while the plants are still growing, rather than obtaining nutrients from external resources added to the foods when they are being processed. And bio-fortification is seen as an upcoming strategy for dealing with deficiencies of micronutrients in the developing world as this increases the vitality of seedlings emerging from zinc-enriched seeds.




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Aishwarya Parasuraman

Aishwarya Parasuraman

Biochemistry undergrad who is fond of science

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