Zinc is the second most abundant mineral in the human body and plays a crucial role in glucose regulation, proper insulin operation and weight control.
A series of factors, more and more present in our modern lives (modern farming and food processing practices) have led to a decrease of the zinc content of our food and, subsequently, to an increasing zinc deficiency in people of all ages. Zinc deficiency exposes our bodies to a great risk of contracting and developing a wide array of conditions and illnesses.
A study carried out on 3575 adults from both rural and urban environments has shown that the prevalence of coronary heart disease, diabetes and glucose intolerance was significantly higher among those who consumed mostly zinc-deficient foods. On the other hand, the same study found that subjects who had a sufficient daily zinc intake registered a significantly lower prevalence of high blood pressure, a high level of triglycerides, low levels of HDL and abdominal obesity.
Zinc and insulin
Zinc helps the pancreas produce insulin, allows insulin to act efficiently and protects insulin receptors within cells. In healthy individuals, insulin is secreted by the pancreas right after the consumption of carbohydrates, and this hormone reduces the level of glucose in the blood and leads sugar to our cells, where it can be used as fuel for the production of energy.
When the zinc level is low, two things can happen:
- The pancreas cannot secrete enough insulin, so the level of sugar in the blood stays high.
- The insulin released cannot function as efficiently as it should.
When these things happen, glucose cannot get into cells and remains suspended in the blood, in alarming levels. The body usually responds to the high level of blood sugar by pumping even more insulin, in an effort of reducing the glucose, but the insulin does not work properly, so the level of insulin grows and stays high. When this happens, diabetes is triggered; in time, this imbalance causes a series of other health issues.
A complex study led by Professor Ayyalusamy Ramamoorthy from the University of Michigan shows that zinc can play an important role in preventing major complications that type 2 diabetes patients can suffer from or in protecting the body against them. The chemistry and biophysics professor, together with his team, claim that amylin, a protein found in the human body, blocks insulin producing cells, which is a disaster for the natural blood sugar control process. Here, zinc could play an extremely important role, by preventing the activity of this protein against insulin producing cells.
Yet, amylin taken individually is not harmful to the human body; in healthy individuals, with a normal level of zinc in the insulin producing cells within the pancreas, it helps regulate blood sugar levels. “Amylin is useful when zinc acts similarly to a security guard at a rock concert, by taking care that fans do not inflict any damage,” explained Professor Ramamoorthy. “On the other hand, in a zinc-devoid cellular environment of a type 2 diabetes patient, amylin has no security guard keeping it in control, and thus it is free to group with other molecules and act with hostility against the body.”
Sources: http://diabeticresourcecenter.com; Jack Challem and Burton Berkson, M.D., Ph.D., The Complete Nutritional Program to Prevent and Reverse Insulin Resistance