Importance of zinc to the human body can't be overstated

Zinc and the common cold

Zinc is vitally important in human health.

Most nutritionally oriented health care professionals recommend zinc in the treatment of the common cold. Some important questions regarding what dose, how often and what formulation should be addressed.

Zinc is the second most abundant trace mineral in the human body after iron. The adult human body contains between two to three grams of elemental zinc. Ninety percent is stored in muscles and bones.

Zinc is estimated to be involved in 2,000 different enzymatic reactions. It is involved in multiple aspects of growth and development. It is also involved in many aspects of immune function.

It estimated that up to 20% of the world’s population or 1.6 billion people have some degree of zinc deficiency. Zinc deficiency can impact proper growth and development. Zinc deficiency is also associated with mild to severe immune deficits.

The recommended daily dose for zinc is currently eight milligrams for adult females and 11 milligrams for adult males. The highest food source of zinc by a large margin is oysters.

Zinc has demonstrated direct antiviral effects. Two primary antiviral mechanisms have been demonstrated. The first is protease inhibition. Proteases are a group of enzymes that function to cleave larger viral proteins into smaller active proteins. This step is necessary for viral reproduction.

The discovery of modern pharmaceutical antiviral medicine frequently targets viral protease inhibition. Zinc functions as a natural viral protease inhibitor via direction inhibition of the protease active site. The second mechanism of antiviral activity is through inhibition of polymerase activity.

Seven studies compared zinc acetate lozenges to zinc gluconate lozenges in the treatment of the common cold. Three trials with zinc acetate showed a 40% decrease in the duration of cold in treated patients.

Four trials with zinc gluconate showed a 28% decrease in the duration of cold in treated patients. The difference between the high and lower doses of zinc in alleviating cold duration was not significant. Additionally, lozenge composition and dosage schedule were deemed important.

Another randomized trial involving 100 employees of an American medical clinic with cold showed an improvement in the zinc-treated group. Half the sick employees took a zinc lozenge supplying 13.3 milligrams of elemental zinc every two hours as long as they had symptoms. The other half took placebo. Cold symptoms lasted an average of 4.4 days in the zinc-treated group, compared to 7.6 days in the placebo group.

Zinc supplementation potentially reduced cold duration by an average of 2.25 days in a review of 10 studies

The ingestion of large doses of zinc for prolonged periods of time suppresses the immune system in much the same way as zinc deficiency. Large dose, beyond 150 milligrams per day of zinc cause transient nausea in many people.

Highly soluble and ionizable forms of zinc in the forms of lozenges and liquids are probably the best compounds to use. The earlier zinc supplementation is started to better. Within 48 hours, but probably within 24 hours of the first onset of cold symptoms is best. The better the solubility the higher degree of ionization of the zinc compound to produce a larger concentration of positive charged zinc ions.

This appears to better to produce a local effect at the site of viral infection and inhibiting pathogenic inflammation created there. An “upregulation” of the immune system and white blood cells can also occur but is realistically a little slower to develop than the immediate antiviral effects.

Taken together, the direct antiviral activity and the immune enhancement effects both contribute to the use of zinc in the treatment of the common cold. It is further worth mentioning that the types of zinc compounds with the highest degree of solubility and ionization are indeed the type of zinc compounds that reveal the best effects in treatment of the common cold. Zinc acetate, zinc gluconate and zinc sulphate are among these compounds.

An elemental dose between 5 and 25 milligrams of zinc can be recommended. Repeated dosing every one to four waking hours is best. Taken for a minimum of three days to up to seven to 14 days or when symptoms disappear is reasonable.

Side effects of nausea and upset stomach are common and can occur. Reducing the dose and taking following the intake of food may help. Larger daily doses beyond 75 to 150 milligrams of elemental zinc are not recommended for most people. Taking high doses beyond two weeks of the first onset of cold symptoms is not recommended.

Of course, it is advised to consult a licensed health care professional for specific dosing and treatment instructions. Also, if pregnant, nursing or under the age of 12 consult a licensed health care practitioner for specific guidelines.

The information provided in this article does not, and is not intended to, constitute medical advice. All information and content are for general information purposes only.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Nutritional supplements—Who needs them?

Benefits of supplements

When I was young and strong, I didn’t believe in nutritional supplements and thought I didn’t need them. However, as I age and I hear the health complaints of other older individuals I think that they have benefits.

Vitamins generally serve as cofactors in biochemical reactions throughout the human body and minerals serve as building blocks for many tissues. They are vital in daily doses to ensure optimal nutrition and health. Vitamin. Vitamins and minerals usually have specific and unrelated functions throughout the human body.

Vitamin A is involved in eyesight, the skin and the immune system. Vitamin B is involved in many reactions that generate energy, ensure proper organ function like the nervous system and aid in detoxification in the liver and kidneys. Vitamin C is the premier water-soluble antioxidant that prevents oxidative damage to the watery parts of the human body. It is also involved in the proper development of connective tissue and the immune system. Vitamin D is involved in calcium and bone metabolism and has been recently discovered to play an important role in hormones and the immune system. Vitamin E is the premier fat-soluble antioxidant the prevents oxidative damage to fatty membranes. Vitamin K is involved in blood clotting and bone metabolism.

Calcium is involved in bone structure, blood clotting and muscles. Sodium is the major electrolyte involved in muscle and nerve function. Potassium is also involved in muscle and nerve function. Magnesium is involved in muscle and nerve function and as a cofactor for many biochemical reactions. Iron is involved in oxygen transfer in red blood cells and as a cofactor in other enzyme reactions. Zinc is involved in the immune system, wound healing and cellular metabolism. Other minerals with important functions include boron, cobalt, chromium, copper, iodine, manganese, phosphorus, strontium, sulfur and other trace minerals required in small amounts.

According to the National Institute of Health, the RDA, or recommended dietary daily allowances, are the levels of intake of essential nutrients that, based on scientific knowledge, are judged by the Food and Nutrition Board to be adequate to meet the known nutrient needs of practically all healthy persons. They are levels of vitamins and minerals that are meant to meet the requirements of the human body for proper development and functioning.

Healthy diets are meant to supply all our nutritional needs and meet the RDA requirements. A healthy diet includes an ample number of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, beans and proteins like meat or vegetable protein sources.

It also probably means less consumption of processed and refined foods like candy, soft drinks and other junk food. Obviously, these foods are lower in nutritional quality and lower in vitamin and mineral content.

Some would also argue that many healthier foods have less nutritional value than they did a generation ago because of farming practices and devitalized soil growing the food. Despite this, I would still argue that it is still better to eat these heathier foods than not. And the same could be true for organic foods. It is still better to eat ample amounts of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, beans, nuts and seeds and protein than not. It is still significantly healthier than eating poor quality junk foods.

In a perfect world, you would get all your nutrients including vitamins and minerals from the food you eat.

For instance, there may be days when you eat healthily and get all your vitamin B12, calcium and iron from your food. Then there are days when you don’t. A vitamin and mineral supplement could be considered an insurance policy to supply the body’s needs that are not met by daily food intake.

Of course, there are tests to evaluate vitamin and minerals status in the body. Lab tests can help determine some of the major levels of these nutrients accurately while others not. Iron and vitamin B12 levels can be determined by blood tests.

Electrolyte levels such sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium can also be determined by blood tests. A baseline, vitamin D level could be useful. Other vitamins and minerals are not as easily or accurately tested in the blood.

Many of these tests are not covered by B.C.’s medical services plan. As a nutritionally oriented practitioner, I try to evaluate nutrient status in a fair and cost-effective manner for patients. In many cases, instead of doing expensive testing it is far easier to recommend a few nutritional supplements for patients that in my experience, can be beneficial for optimal health.

Now that I am older, and see how the body ages, I think a few nutritional supplements to help meet dietary needs, ensure optimal functioning and prevent the oxidative deterioration of aging can be beneficial.

The information provided in this article does not, and is not intended to, constitute medical advice. All information and content are for general information purposes only.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Iron is an important nutrient for the human body

Enhancing iron absorption

Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the world.

An estimated 20% of the entire world’s population has iron deficiency and iron deficiency anemia. Iron deficiency occurs so commonly because of poor dietary intake, poor absorption or blood loss or a combination of these factors. Iron deficiency and iron deficiency anemia presents with a whole host of symptoms that include fatigue and lethargy.

Iron supplementation can improve iron levels in individuals low in iron, most of the time. However, there are patients who still have low iron levels. They often don’t respond to basic iron supplementation.

Vitamin C enhances iron absorption. Vitamin C, in the form of one glass of orange juice added to a meal, enhances absorption of heme iron by 2.5 times.

Other acids found in different foods may help to increase iron absorption, including acids found in fruit juices and fermented foods like pickles, sauerkraut and yogurt. Low stomach acid, or hypochlorhydria, is known to be associated with poor iron absorption.

Phytates in food can inhibit iron absorption of up to 50%. Phytates are found in high fibre foods like wheat, bran and other whole such as grains, beans and legumes.

Polyphenols in foods and beverages like coffee and tea can also inhibit iron absorption by 50% to 90%, as can calcium, in both foods and as supplements. Calcium has been shown to inhibit the absorption of both heme and non-heme iron. A 300 milligrams dose of elemental calcium has been shown to impair iron absorption while smaller doses have not.

Alcohol has also been shown to increase iron absorption, especially heme iron as has garlic, the latter by more than 50%.

Different proteins can enhance or diminish iron absorption. Animal-sourced protein from red meat, fish and poultry can increase it as can whey protein may increase iron absorption slightly. Egg protein and soy protein can decrease iron absorption.

If you have an iron deficiency or iron deficiency anemia, as determined by lab tests, and dietary requirements are not met, iron supplementation can be recommended. The RDA, or recommended dietary allowance, of iron for adults between the ages of 19 to 50 years old is eight milligrams daily for men, 18 milligrams daily for women, 27 milligrams daily for pregnant women and nine milligrams per day for lactation. Other specific doses can be found online.

Choose an iron supplement based on the results of a patient’s lab test, type or iron, the elemental dose, dietary requirements, digestive capacity, price point, the clinician’s experience and generally what is in the patient’s best interest.

Start by taking iron supplements on an empty stomach and not with food. Take it at least 30 minutes to one hour before a meal, or two hours after a meal. Do not take it with other supplements or medication unless suggested by the clinician.

Take iron supplement once per day, or if taking more than one dose and the patient gets nausea or an upset stomach, then take twice per day. Take it consistently for two to three months before retesting iron levels in a lab test that includes CBC, ferritin and iron.

Take vitamin C with iron supplement in a general ratio of 10:1—that is 10 milligrams of vitamin C to every one milligram of elemental iron. (If the elemental iron dose is 10 milligrams, then take with at least 100 milligrams of vitamin C.)

If a patient complains of nausea, constipation, or other digestive disturbance, they should take the iron supplement with food. If there is no change in iron levels after several months decide on a different iron supplement or different strategy.

Also, if there is no change in iron levels, consider taking iron every second day instead of every day. Some studies show that regimen can be effective for some patients who are resistant to everyday dosing.

A dose between 25 to 50 milligrams of elemental iron per day seems to be adequate for most people who are iron deficient. Some people require a dose of 100 milligrams per day or more of elemental iron. Higher doses can be recommended for those who do not respond to the lower dose. Be mindful that a higher daily dose of iron can have negative feedback on iron absorption mechanism. High iron can trigger the opposite effect and decreasing iron absorption.

If iron levels are still depressed after six months of supplementation or longer, and you have not improved subjectively, a re-evaluation of the treatment strategy is on order. Remember some people’s lab values may not improve no matter what is done.

In that case, a referral for further evaluation may be in order, and sometimes iron shots or intravenous iron may be suggested if nothing else helps.

The information provided in this article does not, and is not intended to, constitute medical advice. All information and content are for general information purposes only.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


The benefits of gazing up at the night sky

Healthy stargazing

“Hi Doctor, I am feeling fatigued, depressed, overwhelmed and disconnected.”

“Well, nothing really shows up on your physical exam and lab tests. I think you need some noctcaelador.”


“You need to go stargazing…”

I met John one day by serendipity. He lived next door to my childhood friend Leon.

He was a tall, lanky, late 20s, bespectacled man, with a small van dyke beard and dark, loose, ruffled clothes. He pulled boards at the local sawmill for work and had long slender calloused fingers. John was an accomplished painter and amateur astronomer.

He also showed me his impressive homemade telescopes he made himself. They were large cylindrical tubes that measured up to a foot in diameter and six to eight feet in length. He delicately sanded his own lenses and mirrors. He let me look at the moon, planets and stars with his large powerful telescopes. It was amazing to look at the detail and clarity of these celestial objects. John stirred a passion in me for astronomy and spawned a lifelong interest in stargazing.

There are only a handful of scientific studies on the effects of noctcaelador, or nighttime stargazing, on human health. There is obviously little financial incentive in doing a placebo-controlled double-blind study on stargazing and some aspect of disease. Yet some of the benefits of stargazing may be undeniable.

During a search, I stumbled across the work of an American psychologist, William E Kelly who had a keen interest in studying some of the effects of nighttime stargazing on the health of some college students.

Kelly first coined the term “noctcaelador” in 2003 when he published a paper on the effect of night time stargazing in relationship to a student’s approach to academic achievement.

According to Kelly, noctcaelador was associated with greater openness to new ideas and experiences, increased investigative ability, increased artistic proclivity, a more rational approach to problem solving, increased need for cognition and thinking, a propensity to engage in fantasy, a tendency to become focused and deeply involved and being attentive to stimuli of interest and a willingness to consider unusual ideas and possibilities.

In one study, Kelly looked at the relationship between interest in watching the night sky and sleep length and coping mechanisms. One hundred and five college students completed the noctcaelador index. A decrease in sleep length was associated with an increase in night sky watching and was correlated with an increased ability of coping mechanisms. Coping ability was associated with better cognitive and behavioural strategies during stress and tension.

In another study, 251 university students filled out the Kelly noctcaelador index questionnaire. Increased night time stargazing was associated with increased reflective coping mechanisms. Individuals high in noctcaelador had a higher rational approach to reacting to stressful situations and an improved rational approach to problem solving.

And in yet another study, 140 university students completed the noctcaelador index questionnaire where a higher score on the index scale was associated with a higher openness to experience and appreciation of aesthetic values.

Better stress reactions and coping mechanisms were observed. An increased familiarity and tendency towards more traditional values was also observed in those that scored higher on the NI scale.

In August 2003, a total grid power outage left about 50 million people in the north-eastern parts of Canada and U.S. without power. Many calls to emergency services reported an eerie haze or fog in the sky. The haze or fog was simply the visual appearance of the Milky Way galaxy.

Many people didn’t realize that they were seeing the Milky Way galaxy in the night sky for the first time. The environmental and human effects of artificial light have not been fully studied. Many people are blinded by the artificial light, especially at night. They can’t, or don’t, see the true beauty of the night sky. Light pollution is an increased or excessive amount of artificial light upsets the balance of natural darkness.

The renowned cosmologist and physicist Stephen Hawking was once quoted as saying, “remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.”

The information provided in this article does not, and is not intended to, constitute medical advice. All information and content are for general information purposes only.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

More The Okanagan Naturopath articles

About the Author

Doug Lobay is a practicing naturopathic physician in Kelowna, British Columbia.

He graduated with a bachelor of science degree from the University of British Columbia in 1987 and then attended Bastyr College of Natural Health Sciences in Seattle, Washington, where graduated with a doctorate in naturopathic medicine degree in 1991. While attending Bastyr College, he began to research the scientific basis of naturopathic medicine. 

He was surprised to find many of the current major medical journals abounded with scientific information on the use of diet, vitamins, nutritional supplements and herbal medicines.

Doug is a member of the College of Naturopathic Physicians of British Columbia and has practiced as naturopathic family physician for more than 30 years.  He maintains a busy practice in Kelowna where he sees a wide age range of patients with various ailments.

He focuses on dietary modification, allergy testing, nutritional assessments, supplement recommendation for optimal health, various physical therapy modalities, various intravenous therapies including chelation therapy.

An avid writer, he has written seven books on various aspects of naturopathic medicine that are available on Amazon and was also a long-time medical contributor to the Townsend Letter journal for doctors and patients, where many of his articles are available to view on-line. He has also given numerous lectures, talks and has taught various courses on natural medicine.

Doug enjoys research, writing and teaching others about the virtues of natural health and good nutrition. When not working, he enjoys cycling, hiking, hockey, skiing, swimming, tennis and playing guitar.

If you have any further questions or comments, you can contact Dr. Lobay at 250-860-7622 or [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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