Zinc health benefits: The Sex Mineral

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Some zinc-rich foods

Zinc is a dull grey metallic mineral which nobody would consider attractive, but despite its drab appearance, zinc is actually the sexiest mineral ever.

It is intimately involved in every aspect of reproduction including the production of testosterone. Low levels of this most important hormone are usually associated with zinc deficiency; remove the deficiency, and testosterone levels go back up to normal.

Just one ejaculation can contain up to 5mg of zinc, which shows you how important it is.

Zinc is also vital for fertility in both sexes, is involved in the production of DNA and cell division, and promotes normal development of the fetus. A zinc deficiency during pregnancy can cause congenital abnormalities at birth.

Zinc overview

Zinc is an essential trace mineral that acts as a catalyst in over 100 enzyme reactions in the body and is antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and involved in:

  • cell division
  • building and strengthening bones
  • production of DNA
  • production of hemoglobin
  • production of testosterone
  • correcting hormonal imbalance
  • as a catalyst in hundreds of enzymatic processes
  • insulin activity
  • function of adrenals, pituitary, ovaries and testes
  • maintaining healthy liver function
  • mental alertness
  • activation of T-cells (immune system)
  • healing wounds
  • attacking infected cells
  • attacking cancerous cells
  • decreasing risk of age-related chronic disease including AMD/ARMD
  • fertility in both sexes
  • preventing pneumonia

Zinc is vital for the function of many hormones, including insulin. It is also important for the promotion of normal growth in children, both mentally and physically (in the womb as well as after birth).

Zinc uses

Zinc is used for:

  • fighting free radical damage
  • improving athletic performance
  • slowing the ageing process
  • cold remedies
  • high blood pressure
  • depression
  • tinnitis
  • head injuries
  • diarrhea (but see note on dosage)
  • Crohn’s disease
  • ulcerative colitis
  • peptic ulcers
  • reduction or loss of taste
  • anorexia nervosa
  • reducing damage to the heart
  • AMD/ARMD
  • night blindness
  • asthma
  • pneumonia
  • type 2 diabetes
  • AIDS
  • psoriasis, eczema and acne
  • erectile dysfunction
  • osteoporosis
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • Hansen’s disease
  • ADHD
  • Down’s syndrome
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • sickle cell anemia and many other inherited disorders

Zinc requirement

You need to get enough zinc every day, because although the body contains 2-3g at any one time, this is mostly bound up in the liver, kidneys, skin, muscles and bones. The available zinc is therefore insufficient to last for more than a few hours.

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for zinc is 11mg for men, 8mg for women, 2mg for babies up to 6 months, 3mg for infants up to 3 years, 5mg up to age 8 and 8mg to age 13. During pregnancy and lactation, the requirement increases to 12mg a day. Some conditions may indicate a requirement for a higher dosage than listed here.

Note on dosage: The maximum adult dose is 40mg a day. Taking more than this can cause lowered availability of copper and iron and may lead to diarrhea, vomiting and stomach cramps.

Phytate/phytic acid (found in vegetables and many vegetarian protein sources) can reduce zinc absorption, but can be partially removed by soaking and/or sprouting beans, grains and seeds, or eating grain products which rise during preparation (eg. wholemeal bread).

Zinc sources

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Zinc sources for meat eaters

Zinc sources for vegetarians

Zinc sources for vegetarians

Only about 20 percent of the zinc in food can be absorbed on average, although zinc in animal/fish sources is more easily absorbed because of high cysteine levels, which are not found in vegetables and fruit. Zinc is often removed unintentionally during the course of processing and refining. eg. 83% of zinc in brown rice is lost in the process of being polished and turned into white rice.

The highest sources of zinc are usually claimed to be animal/fish based, but in fact cashews and pumpkin seeds are also pretty good sources.

The richest source is oysters, which have almost 5 times the content of the next highest, dried brewers yeast (this is undoubtedly the reason for oysters’ reputation as an aphrodisiac in men). As it’s easier to eat 20-25g of oysters than 100g brewer’s yeast, this makes oysters a particularly valuable source, but it’s unlikely you can eat them every day – you’d get heartily sick of them after a while, for a start.

Please refer to the chart below for more information on sources. It includes both vegetarian/vegan sources and others suitable for meat-eaters.

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Click for larger image

There’s a wide range of products rich in zinc in my online store.

Zinc supplements

Available zinc from supplements varies. 100mg of each of the following yields the amount of zinc shown:

  • zinc amino acid chelate – 19mg
  • zinc gluconate – 13mg
  • zinc orotate – 17mg
  • zinc sulphate – 22.7mg

Some cold remedies which are sold contain zinc, in particular lozenges.

I offer a choice of zinc supplements in my online store.

Zinc deficiency

Deficiency can be caused by phytic acid in grains, legumes (beas, peas and lentils) and vegetables, a high fibre diet, EDTA (used in food processing), large quantities of TVP in the diet, and breastfeeding in infants over 6 months (there is sufficient zinc in breast milk for the first 6 months of life).

Possible symptoms of deficiency include: slow growth and development in children, eczema, frequent colds and other infections, regular stomach problems, slow recovery from exercise, obesity, leaky gut, slow mental processes, post-natal depression, white spots on the nails, consistent diarrhea, chronic fatigue, poor vision esp. slow dark adaptation, lack of concentration, slow healing wounds/bruises, infertility in both sexes, thinning hair, lack of sexual drive or erectile dysfunction in men, lost sense of taste and/or smell, and poor appetite. You don’t need to have all the symptoms to suspect zinc deficiency.

There is also evidence linking zinc deficiency to various types of cancer, including leukemia, prostate cancer, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer and skin cancer.

Possible causes of deficiency are a vegan or vegetarian diet, a low protein diet, pregnancy, endurance sport, alcoholism, sickle cell disease, gastrointestinal disease, over-consumption of iron supplements, some diuretics, and eating disorders.

Research into the effects of zinc

1. Studies have shown that men who are deficient in zinc have lower testosterone levels and that supplementation restores testosterone levels to normal.

2. There have been several studies on the effect of zinc supplementation on Age-related macular degeneration (AMD/ARMD).

A study in the Netherlands found a reduced risk of AMD when the diet contained high levels of zinc with beta carotene (vitamin A), vitamin C and vitamin E.

A study in 2007 found no effect on AMD from supplementation with zinc on its own, but the AREDS study found that supplementation with 500mg vitamin C, 400 IU vitamin E, 15mg beta carotene, 2mg copper and 80mg zinc significantly reduced serious deterioration in existing AMD patients. Without the zinc, there was no effect found. They also found that zinc without the antioxidant vitamins reduced deterioration in “subjects at higher risk, but not in the total population”.

A follow-up to AREDS found that 25mg zinc worked just as well as the 80mg administered in the original study. As excess intake is associated with genito-urinary problems, it is helpful that the reduced dose has been shown to be effective.

3. Research has found that children with ADHD tend to have lower levels of zinc than other children. A study of 400 children with ADHD found that they showed improved behaviour and were less impulsive and hyperactive when they were given 150mg a day of zinc sulphate (which would yield about 34mg zinc).

Zinc and medication

Taking zinc at the same time as antibiotics or penicillamine (a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis) reduces the effect of both the medication and the zinc. Leave at least 2 hours between taking zinc and either of these medications.

Some prescribed diuretics may cause zinc deficiency. Talk to your doctor about monitoring your zinc status whilst taking these.


Apricot health benefits: help prevent Macular Degeneration (AMD/ARMD)

Apricots are attractive trees

Apricots are attractive trees

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

The apricot, Prunus armeniaca syn. Amygdalus armeniaca, Armeniaca ansu, Armeniaca vulgaris and Prunus ansu, really has no other English names, although there are a few varieties: the Tibetan apricot (P.a. var armeniaca) and the ansu apricot (P.a. var ansu). The regular apricot is also sometimes called the Siberian apricot. It is native to China, Japan, Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia and Tibet but cultivated almost all over the world.

Some people believe that the “apple” eaten by Adam and Eve was actually an apricot. The original Hebrew word means “fragrant fruit”, and since apples are not native to Israel, whereas apricots are, it is at least possible that apricots were the forbidden fruit. It also has to be said that a good apricot definitely tastes good enough to be sinful.

Apricots are closely related to almonds, plums and peaches.

The apricot is a deciduous tree which reaches a height of around 30 feet (9m). It does not like heavy clay, but is otherwise unfussy about soil, so long as it is well drained. It will not grow in full shade.

Apricots are amazingly versatile. The fruit can be eaten fresh, cooked or made into juice or jam/jelly, and dried apricots are available in most good food stores. Canned apricots are also sometimes offered, though in my experience these are not as readily found as they once were. The fresh fruit is sometimes used in green salad or you can add slices of apricot to your morning cereal. Dried apricots make a good snack. When chopped they make a great addition to muesli and can also be used in Middle Eastern savory dishes.

Note: dried apricots are often treated with sulphur dioxide as an aid to preservation. Unfortunately, even though only 1% of the general population and 5% of asthmatics get an obvious bad reaction to this chemical, it’s not very good for you. If you can’t find any information on the pack, I’d advise you to stick to certified organic dried apricots, as the organic code does not permit the use of sulphur dioxide. They’ll probably be brown rather than bright orange. This is a good sign, though they may look a little odd until you are used to them.

Alternatively, you can dry apricots at home. This article on eHow gives excellent instructions on how to do this.

Standard infusion: 3 handfuls of fresh or 30g (1 ounce) dried flowers to 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) boiling water. Allow to stand for 15 minutes to 4 hours, strain off and discard flowers before drinking. Dose: 1 cup a day, sipped slowly warm or cold.

Decoction: 15g (a half ounce) shredded bark to 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) cold water in a small pan. Bring to a boil, lower heat to a simmer and continue heating until liquid is reduced by half.

An infusion of apricot flowers can be used as a tonic.

A decoction of apricot bark can be used to soothe irritated or inflamed skin.

Apricot fruits contain xanthophylls (lutein and zeaxanthin), so eating them regularly will help to protect you against age-related macular degeneration (AMD or ARMD) and may also slow the development of this disease (other helpful foods include green leafy veg like kale, spinach and turnip greens, canned peas and corn). They are useful as a mild laxative and are also very nutritious. Just three apricots (about 100 grams or 1½ ounces) contain 64% of required daily vitamin A intake, 16% of required vitamin C and almost twice the required beta-carotene for an adult, plus an ORAC value of 1115 umol, which is at least one fifth of the daily recommended antioxidant intake – and all this for a calorie cost of only 50! Many other nutrients are present in smaller quantities. For the full list see the table at nutrition-and-you.com.

If you remove the flesh and crack open the stone in the middle, the nut-like kernel (called xing ren in Chinese herbalism) can be used to lower high temperatures (antipyretic), aid breathing, particularly in asthmatics, as an expectorant and cough reliever and to treat internal parasites.

Apricot kernels have also received a lot of attention as a cancer cure, because they contain large quantities of amygdalin (sometimes called laetrile or vitamin B17 – although strictly speaking, it isn’t a vitamin). This is a revival of an old experiment, abandoned in 1892 because it was not only ineffective but also highly toxic! According to Cancer Research UK: “If simply eating apricot seeds could cure cancer, no one would be more delighted than us.”

When amygdalin breaks down in the gut, it produces cyanide, which as most people know is absolutely deadly in quite small amounts. For this reason, the US Government and UK Food Standards Authority recommend that no more than two apricot kernels are eaten a day (although sites offering them for sale say 6-10 a day is the right amount, thus increasing potential profit by 300-500%). Personally, I would go with the authorities on this one! There have been some quite nasty health problems reported in people who had been snacking on them ad lib.

On the other hand, cooked apricot kernels lose much of their toxicity, so snacking on amaretti cookies (the main ingredient of which is ground apricot kernels) or the occasional nip of Amaretto liqueur will probably not do you any harm.

I offer many apricot products including organic dried apricots in my online shop.

If you grow an apricot tree which you wish to use for medicinal purposes, use organic methods to avoid contaminating the crop with foreign chemicals. To find out more about organic gardening, visit the Gardenzone.

Aromatherapy

Apricot kernel oil is used in aromatherapy as a carrier oil or carrier oil additive recommended for dehydrated and mature skin.


Ginkgo health benefits: improves sperm production and treats alcohol addiction

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Ginkgo trees can live as long as 1,000 years

Ginkgo trees can live as long as 1,000 years

Ginkgo biloba, usually just called ginkgo but otherwise the maidenhair tree, is a living fossil dating back 270 million years. It is a large tree which can attain a height of 30 meters (almost 100′), and as it’s also dioecious (has male and female flowers on separate plants), it’s not something you can grow in your own garden if you need the seeds for medicinal use – unless you happen to own a large estate or perhaps if several neighbors also grow one, and are lucky (or possibly unlucky) enough to get a female.

The ginkgo tree is revered as a symbol of the sacred life force in China.

Another problem with ginkgo is that many people find the smell of the fruit offensive (descriptions of the smell range from rotten eggs to vomit), so male trees are often preferred. Obviously, if everyone grows males, there won’t be any fruit at all.

All is not lost, however, as many remedies are based on the leaves, rather than the seed.

Ginkgo is not related to the maidenhair fern, or indeed any other living plant.

Ginkgo used to grow in many more areas than it does now. Fossil leaves dating back to the Jurassic have been found in England, for example. Ginkgo trees were the only trees which survived the atom bombing of Hiroshima. Nowadays, though, ginkgo is only found growing wild in two places, both of which are in China.

It’s quite surprising that its habitat has been reduced so much, because it is an incredibly tolerant tree, accepting any soil, moist or dry, and not being noticeably put out by drought, atmospheric pollution, sea winds and temperatures as low as -35ºC. It won’t grow in full shade, but few trees will, if any. Harvest leaves in late summer or early fall before they change color and dry for later use.

Ginkgo is readily available as a remedy from health stores and also from Chinese herbalists where it is called Bai Guo.

Ginkgo is not suitable for anyone on blood thinners, such as coumarin or Warfarin. Anyone with a history of strong allergic reactions to poison ivy, mangoes and other plants which contain similar chemicals should also avoid using it. The raw seed is toxic if consumed in large quantities over a long period.

Parts used are leaves, fruit pulp oil maceration, raw seeds and cooked seeds.

The leaves are the part mostly studied and used in the West. Ginkgo leaf stimulates the circulation even in peripheral arteries and fine capillaries, which helps to reduce lethargy and give a feeling of well-being. They contain ginkgolides which inhibit allergic responses and are used to treat eg. asthma. They can be used to help ameliorate intermittent claudication. They are also used to treat glaucoma and help preserve vision in adult macular degeneration (ARMD/AMD). They have been shown to improve function in MS patients. Ginkgo also protects against free radicals and reduces the effect of platelet-activating factor (which affects blood clotting). A study in 2008 found that it is of no more value in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease than placebo, and another study has found the same with regard to tinnitus, but a dosage of at least 240mg/day may support memory function.

To make an oil maceration of the fruit, pulp them and cover with oil, shaking every day for 100 days. The pulp can then be used to treat respiratory problems including asthma, bronchitis and TB.

The cooked seed can be used to treat tickly coughs, asthma, phlegmy coughs and urinary incontinence, as a sedative and to improve sperm production.

Raw seed is used to treat cancer and also addiction to alcohol. See note above about toxicity.

I offer ginkgo capsules and tincture in my online shop.

To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.