Minerals and trace elements - Zinc
The major function of zinc in human metabolism is as a cofactor for numerous enzymes. Zinc has a key role as a catalyst in a wide range of reactions. It is directly or indirectly involved in the major metabolic pathways concerned with protein, lipid, carbohydrate and energy metabolism and is also essential for cell division and, therefore, for growth and tissue repair and for normal reproductive development. In addition, zinc is required for the functioning of the immune system and in the structure and function of the skin, and hence plays a vital role in wound healing.
In some countries, delayed puberty and small stature have been linked to zinc deficiency, though it is not certain that this is due to zinc deficiency alone.
Excess zinc in the body from very high doses can interfere with copper metabolism.
Zinc is present in many foods and is most readily absorbed from meat, which provides about a third of zinc in the UK diet. It is also present in milk, cheese, eggs, shellfish, wholegrain cereals, nuts and pulses. For cereals and pulses, zinc’s availability is limited by phytates.
© British Nutrition Foundation