Zinc is cancer’s worst enemy: This mineral is key to preventing cancer, scientists conclude

Consuming zinc might be something that you only think about when cold season approaches given its stellar performance in keeping the common cold at bay, but its value extends far beyond preventing this relatively innocuous problem to something far more serious: fighting cancer.

Researchers from the University of Texas at Arlington have discovered the important role zinc can play in preventing cancer, especially the esophageal variety. Although past studies had indicated zinc had a protective effect on the esophagus when it comes to cancer, it wasn’t clear why.

A team of researchers led by Associate Professor of Nursing Zui Pan decided to investigate further. They found that zinc has the incredibly useful ability to selectively stop the growth of cancerous cells while leaving normal esophageal epithelial cells intact. The researchers say their finding could help improve treatment for esophageal cancer and even provide some insight into how it might be prevented. Pan pointed out that many cancer patients have a zinc deficiency.

It’s a significant discovery; esophageal cancer is now the sixth-leading cause of cancer death in humans globally, and the average five-year survival rate for those with the disease is less than 20 percent. In 2016, the National Cancer Institute reports that the disease took the lives of 16,000 people in the United States alone.

Next, the researchers would like to study how the signals between zinc and calcium are linked and impact one another in hopes of further refining treatment and prevention strategies.

Are you consuming enough zinc?

Zinc deficiency is a serious problem. It’s needed for many of the proteins and enzymes in the body, and a lack of zinc can prevent cells from functioning properly, leading to the development of not only cancer but also other diseases. Zinc is also important for immune function and proper wound healing.

Zinc is an essential mineral, which means the body is unable to produce it and people must get it from food to maintain the right amounts. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), adult men need 11 milligrams per day, while women need 8 milligrams. It’s important not to go overboard, however; the NIH reports that zinc toxicity can cause adverse health effects, such as
vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, and nausea.

Some groups are particularly vulnerable to zinc deficiency. For example, people with certain digestive and gastrointestinal diseases can struggle with zinc absorption. Those with chronic liver or renal disease, diabetes, sickle cell disease, and chronic diabetes are also at risk.

Experts say that vegetarians must also make a point of getting enough zinc as this group tends to miss out on some of the best sources of zinc, like meat. Compounding the issue is the fact that vegetarians tend to consume high amounts of whole grains and legumes, which contain phytates that inhibit the absorption of zinc; soaking beans before cooking them can help alleviate this issue to some extent.

Which foods contain zinc?

The good news is that zinc can be found in a wide variety of foods. Oysters are the top choice as they contain significantly more of the mineral per serving than other foods, but there are lots of other, more practical food sources you can turn to.

A few good choices include: crab, beef, lobster, pork, beans, chicken, cashews, chickpeas, and yogurt. If none of those foods appeal to you, it may be worth considering a zinc supplement to ensure you’re getting enough, but you’ll want to turn to a trusted source to avoid dangerous ingredients.

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