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Zinc: essential for life!

Updated on January 1, 2012
Piece of zinc, with a penny next to it.
Piece of zinc, with a penny next to it.
Periodic table of elements
Periodic table of elements
World currency coins made of zinc.
World currency coins made of zinc.
Zinc bucket
Zinc bucket

Zinc is a metallic chemical element, with Zn as symbol and 30 as atomic number.

Like all metals, zinc is a natural component of the earth’s crust. It is the 24th most abundant element and forms an intrinsic part of our environment. Zinc is present not only in rock and soil, but also in the air, water and the biosphere. Plants, animals and humans all contain zinc in their make up.

Zinc ore deposits are widely spread throughout the world. Zinc ores are extracted in more than 50 countries, with China, Australia, Peru, Europe and Canada being the biggest zinc mining countries. Zinc occurs normally in association with lead and other metals, including copper, gold and silver.

Zinc is constantly being transported by nature, a process called natural cycling. Rain, snow, ice, sun and wind erode rocks and soil containing zinc. Wind and water carry minute amounts of it to lakes, rivers, and the sea, where it collects as sediment, or is transported further. Natural phenomena, such as volcanic eruptions, forest fires, tornadoes, dust storms and sea spray all contribute to the continuous cycling of zinc in nature. The amount of zinc present in the natural environment varies from place to place and also from season to season.

Applications of zinc

Corrosion-resistant zinc plating of steel is the main application for zinc. Other applications are in batteries and alloys, such as brass. A variety of zinc compounds are also commonly used for dietary supplements, deodorants, anti-dandruff shampoos and luminescent paints.

Zinc is an essential mineral of exceptional importance in biology and public health. Zinc deficiency affects about two billion people in the developing world and is associated with many diseases. In children it causes growth retardation, delayed sexual maturation, susceptibility to infection and diarrhoea, which contributes to the death of about 800,000 children worldwide every year.

With thousands of patents and millions of products, zinc has played a supporting role in many of the major inventions of the last century: transistors, lasers, satellites, circuit boards, photocopiers and fuel cells, among others. Zinc is really one of the most versatile and essential materials known to men.

International Zinc Association logo
International Zinc Association logo

Zinc is essential for life and health!

Zinc one of the most essential elements for humans, plants and animals. Humans need it to function and it is of vital importance to our health too.Zinc is found in all parts of the body: organs, tissues, bones, fluids and cells. Muscles and bones contain 90% of the body’s zinc. Particularly high concentrations of zinc are also to be found in the prostate gland and in semen.

Today, however, zinc deficiency has been recognized as an important human health problem, especially in many developing countries and it is ranked as the 5th leading factor in causing disease, especially diarrhea and pneumonia in children, which are responsible for much of the infant mortality there.

Zinc has many benefits for child health and its importance lies in preventing common diseases, such as diarrhea and pneumonia, which are responsible for much of the infant mortality in the developing world.

Growth and cell division

Zinc is especially important during pregnancy, a time when the the cells of the growing fetus are rapidly dividing. Zinc also helps to avoid congenital abnormalities and pre-term delivery of babies. Zinc is also vital in activating growth (height, weight and bone development) in children.


Zinc plays a vital role in fertility.In males, it protects the prostate gland from infection and ultimately from enlargement. It helps maintain sperm count and mobility and normal levels oftestosterone.

In females, it can help treat menstrual problems and alleviate symptoms associated with premenstrual syndrome.

Who needs zinc?

We all need zinc. Children need it to grow, adults need it for health. Growing children, adolescents, pregnant women, lactating mothers, athletes, vegetarians and the elderly often require additional zinc.

Immune system

Among all vitamins and minerals, zinc shows the strongest effect on the immune system. Daily zinc supplements may also help slow the progression of disease, especially in people living with HIV.

Taste, smell and appetite

Zinc activates areas of the brain that receive and process information from taste and smellsensors. Levels of zinc in plasma and zinc’s effect on other nutrients, like copper and manganese, influence appetite and taste preference. Zinc has also been used in the treatment of anorexia.

Skin, hair and nails

Zinc speeds the renewal of the skin cells. Zinc creams are used to soothe diaper rash in babies and to heal cuts and wounds in general. It has also proven effective in treating acne, and has a positive effect on psoriasis and neurodermitis.

Zinc is also used as an anti-inflammatory and can help sooth the skin, particularly in cases of poison ivy, sunburn, blisters and some gum diseases.
Zinc is also important for healthy hair. Insufficient zinc levels may result in hair loss, hair that looks thin and dull, or that greys early. There are also many shampoos which contain zinc to help prevent dandruff.


High concentrations of zinc are found in the retina. With age zinc declines, which seems to play a role in the development of age-related macular degeneration, which can lead to partial or complete loss of vision. Zinc may also protect from night blindness and prevent the development of cataracts.

Where do does one get zinc from?

We get zinc primarily from the food we consume. The major sources of zinc are red meat, poultry, fish and seafood, whole cereals and dairy products. Zinc is most available to the body from meat. A balanced diet is the best way to provide your body with the zinc it requires.

UNICEF and the International Zinc Association (IZA) have launched the Zinc Saves Kids campaign. The initiative will raise funds to support UNICEF’s zinc supplementation programs for children in developing countries.

international zinc association


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    • sylvia13 profile image

      Sylvia Gadea de Beer 5 years ago from Shoal Bay, NSW, Australia

      Thanks for leaving your comment on my hub! A couple of years ago I was traveling on a plane and was sitting next to this woman who turned out to be working for the Zinc Association. She told me all about it and there were many facts I didn't even know about. It was so fascinating that I could only write a hub about it. I am glad you enjoyed it!

    • Didge profile image

      Didge 5 years ago from Southern England

      I really loved this particular hub. Also, beautifully laid out sylvia13.

    • sylvia13 profile image

      Sylvia Gadea de Beer 7 years ago from Shoal Bay, NSW, Australia

      Thanks for leaving your comment pappan chandramohan! I learned many things about zinc just by sitting next to somebody who worked for the Zinc Organization on a plane!

    • profile image

      pappan chandramohan 7 years ago

      hey zinc is essential for male potency and fetal growth, great

    • sylvia13 profile image

      Sylvia Gadea de Beer 7 years ago from Shoal Bay, NSW, Australia

      Thanks for your comment wrenfrost56! I met somebody who works for the Zinc Association on a plane a few weeks ago and she was the one that told me the benefits of zinc, which I did not know anything about!

    • wrenfrost56 profile image

      wrenfrost56 7 years ago from U.K.

      Great hub sylvia, very informative and well written. Thumbs up. :)

    • sylvia13 profile image

      Sylvia Gadea de Beer 7 years ago from Shoal Bay, NSW, Australia

      Thanks very much for your comment!

    • kazeemjames01 profile image

      kazeemjames01 7 years ago

      Very educative.

    • sylvia13 profile image

      Sylvia Gadea de Beer 7 years ago from Shoal Bay, NSW, Australia

      Inspired by your comment, I have now included links to Zinc food sources in my hub! Yes, apparently cabbage has zinc and vitamins B1, B2, B6, A C & K.

    • ramkkasturi profile image

      ramkkasturi 7 years ago from India

      An interesting revelation of zinc's importance. I think it is supposed to be essential for good memory? Vegetables rich in zinc can help.I am not sure but perhaps cabbage is rich in zinc?