Zinc is an essential mineral that plays an important role in the functioning of the body. It helps in boosting immunity and faster healing of wounds. Zinc plays a vital role in maintaining the sensation of taste and smell. In people affected by burn accidents, zinc plays an important role in collagen synthesis and inflammatory response. Unfortunately, the body cannot produce and store zinc, so supplementation of zinc is important.SourcesSome of the natural sources of zinc are wheat, oats, all bran cereals, sesame seeds, fish (sardine), pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, cocoa powder, chicken, poppy seeds (khuskhus), cashew nuts, carom seeds (cywain), niger seeds (kali til), flax seeds (alsi) and garden cress seeds (aliv). Recommend Dietary Allowance•\tMen 17 mg/d, women- 13 mg/day•\tPregnancy and lactation- 14.5 mg/day•\tChildren:-\t6 months to 1 year- 2.5 mg/ day-\t1-9 years- 3-6 mg/ day- 10-18 years- 8.5- 14 mg/ dayBenefits of zincSeveral research studies have found that zinc plays a significant role in the overall health of a person.Research studies from developing countries have found that zinc supplement helps treat upper respiratory tract infections and diarrhoea in children as well as Wilson's disease.Supplements of zinc benefit children with diarrhoea because it is a vital micronutrient essential for protein synthesis, cell growth and differentiation, immune function, and intestinal transport of water and electrolytes.In adults, it helps to treat upper respiratory tract infections, human immunodeficiency virus and promotes wound healing. Zinc supplements keep higher systolic blood pressure in the normal range and lower triglycerides and cholesterol levels. They are also good for skin health and help to treat acne problems.Zinc and DiabetesZinc is absorbed in the small intestine. It helps to keep blood sugar levels in the normal range and stimulates the beta cells to secrete insulin. Zinc plays a role in improving peripheral insulin sensitivity, as it can potentiate insulin-stimulated glucose transport.Research studies have found that in Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes, oxidative stress remains on the higher side. Consuming 30 mg/ day zinc supplements for 3- 6 months helps to reduce oxidative stress. In animal models of insulin resistance, zinc supplementation is known to enhance insulin sensitivity and antioxidant status. A significant increase in cardiac morphological impairment, fibrosis and dysfunction was also seen in diabetic mice, which is reversed by zinc. Zinc supplements help to reduce fasting and postprandial blood sugar levels as well as HbAlc levels. Commercial zinc supplements consist of 7-80 mg of elemental zinc.DeficiencyDuring pregnancy, zinc deficiency leads to poor development of the foetus which can cause growth retardation. WHO research has shown that zinc is an important element for the growth of cells and metabolic below 5 years of age. The deficiency of zinc in diet can affect overall growth.Zinc supplementation has been found to reduce the duration and severity of diarrheal episodes and the likelihood of subsequent infections for 2-3 months. Also, conditions like alopecia, glossitis, nail dystrophy,decreased immunity and hypogonadism in males are seen due to zinc deficiency.Overconsumption Overconsumption of zinc leads to metallic taste, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhoea suppressed immunity, decreased HDL levels, anaemia and copper deficiency. Iron supplements and some cereals include phytate compounds - both are contraindications along with zinc so the gap in the intake between these should be 2 hours.Medicine interactionAntibiotics like quinolone or tetracycline can interfere with zinc, rendering it ineffective on bacterial infections. Penicillamine is a medicine used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. If zinc is administered with it, it can reduce the drug's ability. Also, thiazide diuretics (medicines used to treat blood pressure) can increase the amount of zinc lost in the urine.There have not been significant effects found on renal and liver functions due to zinc supplementation, which is indicated by unchanged blood urea, serum creatinine levels and liver functioning in those receiving Zn sulfate (22mg/day) and Zn acetate (50mg/day) for 34 months.Gayatri Kulkarni is a Registered Dietician and PaediatricNutritionist.