Are your joints achy and stiff?
Do they crack, pop, or grind when you move?
Wear-and-tear can be present with or without a degenerative bone or joint disease diagnosis. The good news is, studies are demonstrating that certain minerals help to alleviate joint discomfort and slow (or even prevent) the progression of severe bone and joint conditions as we age!
That being said, it’s just as crucial for people with healthy bones and joints to focus on maintenance and prevention. Certain lifestyle practices like a diet that helps your body thrive can have a significant impact on the integrity of your bones and joints.
If you’re looking to improve your bone and joint health, zinc is a mineral you will want to consider.
The Many Roles of Zinc
Zinc is an essential mineral that has many vital functions in your body. When we say “essential,” we aren’t exaggerating: you can find zinc in every tissue type that exists in our bodies.
- It helps in the synthesis of DNA and proteins
- It’s a significant player in immune system functioning (e.g., wound healing)
- It ensures smooth cognitive processing
- It contributes to healthy skin and connective tissues and more
Zinc’s role in the structure, growth, and maintenance of our joints is essential.
Many think ligaments and tendons are the only tissue types that fall within the “connective tissue” category, but bone and cartilage are, too!
In fact, it’s the mineralization of bone that makes our skeletons strong and the cartilage that makes our joints be able to move smoothly. Collagen makes up nearly all of the matrix proteins and numerous parts of a joint, including tendons, ligaments, and cartilage.
When it comes to bone growth, zinc helps with the bone-building cells of the body (called osteoblasts) do their job as well as counteracting bone resorption. You can think of resorption as “the opposite of absorption”; instead of your bones absorbing zinc…resorption is when minerals leave your bones and go back into your bloodstream! While a natural part in the cycle of bone health, too much resorption can cause problems such as decreased bone density.
Does zinc improve bone health? Yes!
But what do researchers say about zinc and bone health?
In the presence of zinc deficiency, scientists are able to check for a biomarker within the bloodstream called ALP (that is, serum bone alkaline phosphatase). When ALP activity is low, it is more likely that problems with bone formation exist. This measure shows improvement when people with zinc deficiency take supplements of zinc.
People with a zinc deficiency often experience slowing in the rate of bone growth. In a 2010 study in the journal Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry, researchers reported reduced zinc levels are often seen in people who are aging, have gone through menopause or having skeletal unloading. They noted that taking supplements resulted in the reconstruction of the bone when the person had bone loss.
Prevent deficiency by eating zinc-rich foods
If you’ve read our previous blog posts, you’ve probably noticed a consistent theme: a healthy diet is critical to a healthy body. Eating more foods that contain zinc is the primary way you can promote optimal health of the bones, prevent or treat zinc deficiency.
Oysters are the only food source that provides the necessary amount of zinc in one serving (in fact, the amount goes far beyond). Other foods that provide a fair amount include various meat and seafood choices, such as beef, Alaska king crab, and lobster. You can also obtain small amounts of zinc from dairy products and some plant-based foods, like legumes and nuts. Additionally, many breakfast cereals are fortified with zinc.
For a more comprehensive list of foods that contain zinc, click here.
Are you prone to zinc deficiency?
Researchers have found that some populations are more likely to need a boost in the amounts of zinc they consume compared to others. For example, some just don’t eat enough foods on a consistent basis that contain zinc, while others’ bodies don’t use it efficiently and need higher amounts.
If not vigilant, vegetarians and vegans may not obtain adequate amounts of zinc because meat and seafood are the primary sources of this nutrient and certain plant-based foods inhibit its absorption due to phytic acid.
People with certain digestive conditions or who had gastrointestinal surgery can have trouble absorbing this mineral as well. Also, pregnant and lactating women, people with alcohol dependence and those with certain chronic health conditions, such as diabetes and sickle cell disease, can be at risk for zinc deficiencies.
What to do next
If you’re looking to optimize your bone and joint health or increase your zinc levels, but have trouble with the main food sources of zinc, supplementation may be a great avenue to look consider.
But don’t forget: it’s always a good idea to check with your primary care physician or orthopedist before adding supplements to your daily routine!