This is particularly useful for women, who are at greater risk of bone damage after menopause. In general, people start to lose their bone mass after reaching the age of 35, but after menopause, the process gets worse for women. Osteopenia (or minor bone loss) usually sets in at this age; over time, a woman's bone mineral density will reach a considerable dip, which becomes osteoporosis. People describe osteoporosis as "brittle bones," wherein fractures may develop in simple slips, falls, or even movement.
According to experts, what links the two conditions is possibly the dramatic drop of estrogen. After menopause, women stop ovulating, monthly menstruation stops, and estrogen levels decrease – which scientists believe is tied to the risk of lower bone density.
In the current study, researchers looked at whether adding zinc supplements can affect osteopenia, based on rat models that have been induced with the condition. Earlier studies have concluded that zinc contains a "restorative effect on bone loss under various pathophysiologic conditions including aging, skeletal unloading, aluminum bone toxicity, calcium- and vitamin D-deficiency, adjuvant arthritis, estrogen deficiency, diabetes, and fracture healing." The study goes on to proffer zinc compounds as a potential supplement in preventing and treating osteoporosis.
Researchers selected 48 Wistar rats for two batches of the experiment. They were assigned to be either in the control group or the ones that were given zinc supplements. The other two groups both underwent an ovariectomy, with one given with a zinc sulfate supplement. The rats were treated for eight weeks, and tissue samples were collected afterward for analysis. In particular, the researchers conducted a histoarchitecture analysis on both bones, as well as electron microscopy. The bone calcium content was also analyzed with the aid of an atomic absorption spectrophotometer.
Based on the results, there was an improvement in the bone microarchitecture and adiposity in the bone marrow of the ovariectomized rats compared to those that weren't given supplementation. The calcium content in the sampled bones also improved after zinc supplementation after analysis.
The findings of the study revealed that changes in the bone due to estrogen loss can be addressed by supplementing with zinc. "Zinc is an important constituent of bone tissue and may certainly [associate] with the bone microarchitecture," the researchers concluded. "From this study, we confirm that zinc supplementation, if given at early stages of bone loss, will prevent the bone tissue deterioration."
Of course, zinc isn't just for women after menopause. It also affects immune functions, wound healing, DNA synthesis, and even cell division. It also supports the development of every age group – starting from pregnancy, childhood, and even adolescence. It's also needed so a person can smell and taste properly. (Related: Zinc deficiency during pregnancy causes bone problems in fetus.)
Based on the recommended intake set by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, a man should get at least 11 mg of zinc a day, while women should have at least 8 mg, with pregnant and lactating mothers needing at least 12 mg.
Oysters have the highest levels of zinc than any other food items at 74.0 mg per serving, but other excellent sources include poultry, beans, nuts, some seafood, and whole grains.