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I take zinc when I feel a cold coming on and find that it definitely helps to keep me from getting sick. Many people use zinc for this immune-boosting purpose, but zinc benefits can do more for your body than just that. The benefits of taking zinc include lowering your risk of heart disease, treating Parkinson’s disease, and even helping clear up acne.
As if that weren’t enough, yet another reason to love zinc is that it can be helpful for diabetes care. Zinc is highly concentrated in the islet cells of the pancreas, where insulin is produced. Zinc benefits include promoting healthy insulin function, providing natural blood sugar control, and might even help to prevent diabetes in the first place.
Zinc Benefits and Insulin
Laboratory studies have shown that zinc acts like insulin when administered to insulin-sensitive tissue and that it seems to stimulate insulin action. It binds to insulin receptors, activates insulin signaling pathways, and more, all of which result in glucose uptake by cells and clearance of glucose from the blood. Zinc is also necessary for the correct processing, storage, and secretion of insulin, and it can protect against β-cell loss, a hallmark of diabetes. Because zinc is so closely tied to insulin functioning, zinc deficiency is associated with poor β-cell function and higher incidences of insulin resistance.
Reduced Zinc Levels Seen in Diabetic Patients
It is not surprising then, to learn that low zinc levels are often associated with diabetes. One study found that prediabetic individuals are more likely to be zinc deficient, and that at any given body mass index (BMI), people with lower zinc levels are more insulin resistant than those with higher zinc levels. Multiple studies have found high rates of zinc deficiency in patients with type 2 diabetes.
Zinc for the Prevention of Diabetes
Because zinc deficiency is associated with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, researchers want to know, can zinc help prevent the onset of diabetes? Although more studies are needed to know for sure, preliminary research suggests that it can (at least in women). In one study following 82,297 women across 24 years, those who had higher zinc intakes had a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Another study in 2013 found the same; higher zinc intake was associated with decreased risk of type 2 diabetes in middle-aged women.
Zinc Supplementation Can Improve Blood Sugar Control
So zinc may be helpful in protecting against diabetes, but can it also help treat it once you are already diabetic? Numerous animal and laboratory studies show that zinc supplementation can reduce fasting glucose and improve insulin functioning in animal models of diabetes. While studies in humans are more limited, the evidence is growing that humans can benefit from taking zinc, as well, with zinc supplementation resulting in improved insulin function and blood sugar control.[2,5,6]
Other Benefits of Taking Zinc for Diabetes
Zinc offers more than just a natural blood sugar control strategy; zinc also has antioxidant effects. Oxidative stress is common in diabetes, and zinc supplementation can help to reduce oxidative damage in people with diabetes.[1,3,7] Zinc can also help to control lipid metabolism in diabetics, helping to improve cholesterol and triglyceride levels.[6,8]
Taking a Zinc Supplement
The daily recommended dose of zinc is 12 mg for women and 15 mg for men. In some cases, your doctor may recommend for you to take more than this daily. Speak with your doctor about adding a zinc supplement to your diabetes care plan. Zinc lozenges, particularly in the form of zinc gluconate, are a good source of zinc because they are readily absorbable.