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Zinc is natural metal element that serves as a life-sustaining micronutrient in the human body. Zinc is easily one of the most underrated dietary minerals in the world – it’s an unsung hero, a dark horse of the brain that is vastly underappreciated. It is required by many countless animal and plant species for biological function and is the second most abundant trace metal elements in the human body.
Zinc’s Role in Brain Health and Mental Activity
Zinc covers a wide range of biological roles and is particularly important regulating brain health. It’s absolutely essential for the developing brain, and for ensuring proper cognitive faculties including attention, reasoning, and short term memory.1https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/272916514https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/917683415https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2097230216https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/895126520https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3035902/21https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3362702/
In the brain, zinc acts as a modulator of many different neurological functions. It is critical for regulating neuronal activity and synaptic plasticity1https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/256599703https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1962353122https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19026685, and as consequently in learning and memory as well. Zinc is also required to maintain optimal levels of BDNF production8https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2462106517https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1978471020https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3035902/, with deficiencies in BDNF being strongly implicated in depressive disorders.27https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3022308/
Zinc also acts as a glutamate modulator, primarily in the cerebral cortex and limbic system3https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19623531, which suggests that it’s critical for normal cognitive and emotional functioning. One study found that zinc deficiency led to NMDA receptor upregulation7https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25290638, which is primary binding site for glutamate. By upregulating the receptor site, this can lead to excessive levels of glutamate, which in turn can cause a whole host of mental and neurological disorders. Zinc is also important for neuroprotection and modulating apoptosis (programmed cell death).17https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1978471018https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2342007819https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4145991
Deficiencies in zinc have been linked to numerous neurological disorders3https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19623531, including “impaired brain development and many neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and prion disease.”1https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25659970
Mood and Behavioral Regulation
Another study found that zinc defiency can cause anhedonia, social and behavioral despair.7https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25290638 Other studies have drawn a link between zinc deficiency and and autism23https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4517817/, further demonstrating crucial roles maintaining proper cognitive function.
Zinc is not just for cognitive function, some studies have found that supplementation can also treat depression, anxiety, and OCD.1https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/256599705https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/235675178https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2462106524https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2068941625https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2008737628https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2954453/22https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22465904
One of the more well-known benefits of zinc is its ability to raise testosterone levels and fertility. It can enhance sperm function and growth29https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3017327/30https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10916226, and is found in high levels in the testes and prostate31https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8033970, fufilling a vital role in producing testosterone, and zinc has even been shown to prevent testicular damage.31https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23406764
Zinc’s Role in Sleep
Interestingly, new data has shown that zinc also acts as a sleep modulator. Recent research has concluded that supplemented zinc increases the amount and quality of sleep in mice and humans.2https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29113075
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Zinc Dosage Information
Typical zinc doses range from 10-20mg per day, with 25-30mg being the daily upper limit. Consuming more than 30mg a day can cause copper deficiencies, leading to adverse neurological effects.