Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison have identified one of the critical roles the mineral zinc plays in preventing neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and ALS. (Lou Gehrig’s disease.) A hallmark of this type of disease is a clumping together of proteins that negatively affects brain function.
It appears that zinc acts as a necessary traffic cop, ensuring that proteins do not run into each other and form clumps of damaged cells. Therefore, a deficiency in this mineral could allow the proteins to bind together, causing one of these lethal diseases. So far, the research on zinc’s role in preventing protein clumps has been on yeast cells, but that’s not as far out as it sounds. In this particular arena, yeast cells function much like human cells.
So, ready to get your zinc on? Obtaining zinc from food is preferable to supplementation with tablets, other than as a component of a well-balanced multivitamin. Supplements containing high levels of zinc are contraindicated in many diseases and ill-advised in conjunction with certain medications. Over-supplementing with zinc is detrimental to health and impairs the body’s ability to utilize copper and iron. If you suspect that you may need a stand-alone supplement, that option should definitely be discussed with your doctor. (The National Institutes of Health provide a chart on recommended dietary intakes of zinc, based on age and sex.)
Many foods are high in zinc, with some sources more bio-available than others. Bio-availability is the amount of a nutrient your body can actually use. Whole grains contain significant amounts of zinc; however the mineral is not readily bio-available. But rejoice meat and seafood lovers! Meats and some seafood, oysters in particular, are excellent sources of zinc. Zinc can also be found in seeds, nuts and dark chocolate. (Is there nothing dark chocolate can’t do?)
Until further studies have been conducted, we won’t know for certain if zinc supplementation will someday become a routine prophylaxis for these deadly diseases. But what we do know is, a diet rich in zinc provides an extra layer of protection from neurodegenerative disease. So I’ll have my steak rare, thanks.
Tenenbaum, David. “Zinc discovery may shed light on Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s.” University of Wisconsin-Madison News. 30 Sept. 2013. Web 2 Oct. 2013
“Top ten foods highest in zinc.” Health-Alicious-Ness.com 2011 Web 2 Oct. 2013
Jucker, Mathias and Walker, Larry C. “Seeds of Dementia – What do Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Lou Gehrig’s have in common?” Scientific American. 6 May 2013. Web 2 Oct. 2013