Zinc & Cancer

Zinc as an anti-cancer & pro-Transcription & Enzyme trace Mineral

Zinc is an essential trace mineral, probably most widely known for the integral role it plays in your immune system and the prevention and treatment of the common cold. Aside from iron, zinc is the most common mineral found in your body, necessary for the function of every one of your cells.

Zinc is used in the production of white blood cells, helping your body to fight infection, and plays a key role in regulating the way your heart muscle uses calcium to trigger the electrical stimulus responsible for your heartbeat. (1) It’s also one of the building blocks for approximately 3,000 proteins and 200 enzymes in your body. Recent research has now identified the role zinc plays in protecting your DNA. (2) However, while essential, your body does not store zinc, so it is important you get enough from your dietary intake every day. Moreover, regularly getting too much can be just as hazardous as getting too little.

Zinc May Reduce DNA Strand Breaks

DNA is in every cell of your body and is the blueprint your cells use during replication. Until late adulthood your body has the ability to regenerate DNA, but over time DNA does deteriorate, eventually causing the overall breakdown of body systems. Recent research has identified the role zinc may play in slowing this DNA deterioration.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has determined a recommended daily amount of identified vitamins, minerals and nutrients that reduces the risk of experiencing symptoms of deficiency. However, a lack of symptoms of insufficiency does not necessarily support optimal health.

The levels recommended for zinc vary with age and gender as the absorption, use and requirements for the mineral varies with those same factors.

Researchers from the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute (CHORI) began a study with the intention of measuring the impact small increases in dietary intake of zinc would have on the body’s metabolic functions.

Janet King, Ph.D., led the study where 18 men ate a rice-based, low-zinc diet for six weeks. Both before and after the experimental period the researchers measured indicators such as DNA damage, oxidative stress and DNA inflammation. (3)

A Longevity Mineral

When participants increased dietary zinc consumption researchers found a reduction in leukocyte DNA strand breakage, suggesting a modest increase in dietary zinc could reduce the everyday “wear and tear” on DNA.  (4)

While increasing your dietary intake of zinc may be beneficial to your overall health, taking supplemental zinc may not be the way to get one’s zinc because of the copper element.

An Imbalance of Zinc and Copper May Lead to Health Problems

The body has an elaborate system to maintain balance between trace minerals in your system, such as iron, zinc, copper and chromium. Consuming these minerals in your food helps maintain the proper balance, while taking supplements can easily create an imbalance of too much of one and not enough of another.

Sometimes ingestion occurs knowingly, such as when you take a daily supplement, and other times you may unknowingly absorb more than the recommended daily allowance for a nutrient through another chemical source.

In 2011, researchers from the University of Maryland published a study that demonstrated a hazard of ingesting excess zinc from denture adhesive.5

Excess zinc may lead to a copper deficiency, as the absorption patterns in the gastrointestinal tract are similar. Competition for absorption may lead to an increase in zinc and a reduction in copper.

Too much zinc may lead to nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, headaches and loss of appetite.6 Getting your zinc from your diet significantly reduces the potential of overdosing.

Copper deficiency can be the result of malabsorption, malnutrition or from an excess of zinc in your system. (7)

High intake of zinc may increase the creation of metallothionein, a cell protein in your intestines that binds to some metals and prevents absorption. (8)

These cells have a stronger affinity for copper than zinc. This produces a cycle in which the consumption of zinc triggers the development of metallothionein cells, which then decrease the amount of copper absorbed.

One of the more common symptoms of a copper insufficiency is anemia. In this case the anemia will not respond to an increase in iron, but rather improves with copper supplementation, (9) or foods rich in copper, like pepper (Check ? )

Copper deficiency may also lead to an abnormal low white blood cell count (neutropenia), increasing your potential for infection. In such a case, you may take a zinc supplement to alleviate your cold, for example, thereby worsening your copper deficiency.

Other abnormalities related to copper deficiency include osteoporosis, infants born at low birth weight and loss of pigmentation in your skin.

Zinc Strengthens the Immune System

Inadequate amount of zinc in your diet may increase your potential for infection. Without zinc, your white blood cells don’t function optimally and other processes in your immune system are affected as well. Neutrophils, phagocytosis, antibody production and even gene regulation in your lymphocytes are affected by zinc. (10)

Although scientists are continuing to study the exact cellular changes an adequate supply of zinc produces on your immune system, some studies indicate it may reduce the duration of your cold by as much as 50 percent, especially if you are deficient. (11)

Each year there are approximately 200 different viruses that make up the “common cold.” While zinc helps support your immune system, it also appears to have antiviral properties that prevent the virus from replicating and attaching to your nasal membranes. (12)

Researchers have also discovered that zinc may have other immune boosting properties that help your body have a strong first response at the onset of symptoms. (13)

The initial dose must be taken in the first 24 hours of symptoms to work well, and those taking zinc are less likely have symptoms last more than seven days while supplementing with zinc lozenges.

 Zinc and Diabetes

Some experts estimate that as many as 12 percent of people in the U.S. are deficient in zinc, with as many as 40 percent of the elderly due to poor absorption and low dietary intake. (14)

Zinc plays a significant role in the reduction of oxidative stress and helping DNA to repair, especially as you age. According to Emily Ho, Ph.D., associate professor with the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University: (15)

The role zinc plays in protection against oxidative stress may explain, in part, why diabetics who have higher levels of zinc experience a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. (16)

A recent collaborative study with researchers from New Zealand and Australia demonstrated those with zinc blood levels between 14 micromoles and 18 micromoles per liter had the lowest risk of heart disease. (17)

Optimizing your dietary zinc intake may also improve diabetic markers, such as better glycemic control and lower concentrations of lipids.

Zinc and Sensory Organs

Taste, smell and vision are three sensory functionsin which zinc plays a significant role. Both taste and smell are important to your appetite, so a deficiency may reduce your desire to eat. This can be substantially important in people who suffer from cancer. Zinc deficiency, and the resulting loss of appetite, can be the result of some chemotherapy drugs and radiation treatments used to treat cancer.

In a review of the literature, researchers found a diversity of taste disorders with zinc deficiency.18 Zinc is critical to the production of the metalloenzyme carbonic anhydrase (CA) VI. (19)

When there is a deficiency of zinc, this enzyme is not made in adequate amounts, leading to loss of taste and, subsequently, appetite.

Your taste and smell systems use CA VI as a growth factor, but it also plays a role in apoptosis, or cell death. If you have a zinc deficiency, apoptosis increases in your body and the cells in your taste and smell organs die abnormally quickly. With an overload of zinc there is another type of alteration that results in further apoptosis and death of those same cells. (20)

Zinc also works in combination with vitamin A to help your eyes sense light and send the appropriate nerve impulses to the brain for interpretation. (21) The retina, an important part of eyesight, is made of membranes rich in polyunsaturated fats.(22)

Reactive oxygen species (ROS) may initiate chain reactions of lipid peroxidation that injures the retina,and therefore the eyesight. Researchers have found amoderate zinc deficiency increases the oxidative stress on the retina and suggest that zinc may be protective against lipid peroxidation of the retinal membranes. (23)

While oxidative stress on the retina has been demonstrated, the role zinc plays in macular degeneration with age has not been conclusively proven. (24)

Like other symptoms of zinc deficiency, these appear to be reversible when blood levels return to normal through an appropriate intake of real food.

Zinc and Cancer

The regulatory effects of zinc on the NF-kB pathway makes zinc highly significant in the prevention of cancer cell growth patterns. Zinc is associated with inhibiting angiogenesis in tumor cells as well as the secretion of inflammatory cytokines. Zinc has been found to stimulate programmed cell death known as apoptosis in abnormal cells. Normal apoptosis events reduce the risk of cancer growth.

Zinc deficiency can promote a variety of human cancers including esophageal as well as cancers related to the digestive tract, head, and neck. Zinc supplementation has been shown to reduce the number of tumors and carcinogenic severity.

Prostate & Breast Cancers

Zinc is especially important in prostate and breast cancers. People with the BRCA1 gene have the highest known risk for developing breast cancer. In 2012 a cohort of individuals with the gene identified were examined. The researchers found a lower risk of cancer development in the people with the highest concentrations of zinc. The same study also found that the individuals with the lowest levels of zinc in their bodies had a significantly increased risk of breast cancer developing.

Bladder Cancer

The association between zinc deficiency and an increased risk for bladder cancer also exists. Not only has research found that patients with bladder cancer have low levels of zinc, but the cancerous tissue itself has significantly low zinc concentrations. Researchers learned supplementing zinc to bladder cancer patients stimulates apoptosis (programmed cell death) and consequently results in an anti-cancer effect.

Skin Cancer

Zinc supplementation can also lower the risk of skin cancer, however its direct association is uncertain. Men and women naturally exhibit gender differences which affect their immunosuppression pathways of the skin and exposure to ultraviolet radiation. Despite these innate differences, there is a significant association with zinc supplementation inhibiting cancer development of the skin.

Zinc is observed to lower inflammation, suppress abnormal tissue growth, and lower the incidence of larger skin lesions and more deleterious tumors.

Zinc Deficiency and the p53 Gene

The p53 gene is the primary gene that protects men from prostate cancer and women from breast cancer. This gene is said to be the guardian of the human genome for its protective benefits. A mutation in the p53 genewill therefore dramatically increase cancer development risk. Zinc is essential to the p53 gene in order to reduce the risk of mutations of this vital protector. This occurrence would drastically increase the likelihood for cancerous cell development of the prostate and breast.

Zinc and Estrogen Balance & Libido

Dr. David Watts observed that women who had elevated levels of copper, calcium, and boron in their hair minerals also had the lowest levels of zinc − and were at greatest risk for breast cancer. Dr. Watts’ explanation of this finding is that copper and boron increase the body’s sensitivity to estrogen and decrease the effects of progesterone.

Zinc supports the production and use of progesterone. Thus a deficiency in zinc increases estrogen sensitivity and decreases progesterone response. In order to effectively balance the hormones in these women, it is essential to raise zinc levels and simultaneously decrease boron, copper, and calcium concentrations.

Men also seen zinc for their reproductive organs.

Expound on later…pending

Zinc and Vegans

Grain eating Vegans have a particular challenge as phytic acid in grains compete with the absorption of zinc and other nutrients. So the best way to get around this challenge is to eat zinc rich foods like pumpkin seeds or nuts like almonds and cashews, or spinash, mushrooms without any grains. Baked beans and coffee also have zinc.

How to Address a Zinc Deficiency through Supplementation

First off, given Zinc partnership with copper, it’s best to take zinc in foods as both these foods should have about the right ratio.

Natural sources of zinc are found in especially in oysters and to a lesser degree in  eggs, whole grains, nuts, seeds, shellfish and meat.

Due to the toxic bioaccumulation in oysters and shellfish and meats, these sources should be limited if not avoided.

Plant based sources of zinc are found largely in sprouted pumpkin, hemp, sunflower, and chia seeds.

Adults are generally recommended to take8-11 milligrams of zinc daily.

However, functional health experts and most progressive nutritionists will advise that 30-40 mg/daily is preferred.

Consuming concentrations exceeding 100 mg/day can create adverse health reactions and actually increase cancer risk.

The best forms of zinc are in amino acid chelates such as zinc glycinate or bisglycinate where zinc is attached to one or two glycine molecules.

Glycine is a key amino acid that helps with phase 2 liver detoxification, supports relaxation, and improves symptoms of insomnia.

Another good form iszinc orotate, which acts like an antioxidant in the body much like the zinc glycinate.

The form that is used most commonly but should be avoided is zinc gluconatewhich is zinc connected to a fermented glucose molecule. This form has a low level of bioavailability in the body.

If you have symptoms of a zinc deficiency and choose to use a supplement, ensure it is from a reputable company using best-practice, quality assurance methods. Independent verification of the raw materials is vital to confirm quality and assure it is free of lead and other heavy metals. Unless your clinician recommends otherwise, going  above 40 milligrams (mg) per day would normally be too much.


Zinc is a mineral required by the body to support immune function and assist in various cellular activities. It also supports more than 300 enzymatic functions.  Zinc deficiencies are believed to contribute to 400 thousand deaths annually. Zinc is especially important for pregnant women and growing children as it assists in cognitive development and regulates hormones such as leptin, IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor-1) and cortisol.



To recapitulate the key points. Zinc is a mineral required by the body to support immune function and assist in various cellular activities. Unfortunately, an estimated 25% of the world’s population (about 2 billion people) has a zinc deficiency. Experts believe the primary reason for zinc deficiency is an inadequate diet. A diet high in sugar and carbohydrates prevents the body from properly absorbing zinc. Phytic acids found in legumes and grains can block zinc absorption when consumed in high amounts. Zinc deficiency is also common in people that lack the ability to absorb the mineral, such as those with leaky gut syndrome. Regularly taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can also adversely affect zinc levels.Some of the most common symptoms which may be a sign of zinc deficiency include: Lowered Immunity, Poor Memory, Breast and P rostate Cancer, Infertility, Loss of Libido, Frequent Colds or Flus, Abnormal Hair Loss, Slow Thinking Process, Spots on Fingernails, Low Energy, Insomnia, Loss of Taste or Smell, Sinus Problems and Allergies, Skin Rashes / Eczema, and Loss of libido and Appetite Zinc deficiency can promote a variety of human cancers including esophageal as well as cancers related to the digestive tract, head, and neck. Zinc supplementation has been shown to reduce the number of tumors and carcinogenic severity.



– Sources and References

Journal of Biological Chemistry 2015; 290(28): 17599

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2016

3, 4 Medical News Today, January 7 2017

University of Maryland Bulletin, March 2011

National Institutes of Health, Zinc

7, 8, 9 Linus Pauling Insitute Oregon State University, Copper

10 The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1998; 68(2): 4475

11 New York Times, February 15, 2011

12 Journal of Virology 2009; 83(1):58-64

13 Journal of Pakistan Medical Association 2000

14, 15 Prevent Disease, January 2017

16 Nutra Ingredients Nivember 2016

17 Nutrients 2016; 8(11): 707

18 Biological Trace Element Research 1984; 6(3): 263

19, 20 Taste and Smell Clinic February 2005 Zinc and Apoptosis

21 The Worlds Healthiest Foods, Can a Deficiency in Zinc Affect Sensory Organs

22 Frontiers in Bioscience 2011; 3:52-60

23 Investigative Ophthalmology and Vision Science 1999; 40(6):1238-1244

24 Journal of the American College of Nutrition 2001; 20(2):106-118

General Bibliography

Zinc Deficiency

Zinc helps against infection by tapping brakes in immune response.

NF-κB control of T cell development

Zinc in cancer prevention

The zinc finger protein A20 inhibits TNF-induced NF-kappaB-dependent gene expression by interfering with an RIP- or TRAF2-mediated transactivation signal and directly binds to a novel NF-kappaB-inhibiting protein ABIN

Neurological and behavioral toxicity of kryptopyrrole in the rat

Biochemical relationship between kryptopyrrole (mauve factor and trans-3-methyl-2-hexenoic acid (schizophrenia odor)

The influence of zinc on apoptosis

Zinc and breast cancer risk

The missing Zinc: p53 misfolding and cancer

The role of micronutrients in the risk of urinary tract cancer

Reduction in squamous cell carcinomas in mouse skin by dietary zinc supplementation

Effects of glutamine alone or in combination with zinc and vitamin A on growth, intestinal barrier function, stress and satiety-related hormones in Brazilian shantytown children

Extra pending

How We Deplete Our Zinc Storage Levels

A diet high in sugar and carbohydrates creates an unhealthy blood sugar balance thus preventing the body from properly absorbing zinc. Zinc deficiency is a common occurrence in people that lack the ability to absorb the mineral, such as those with leaky gut syndrome.

Phytic acids found in legumes and grains can block zinc absorption when consumed in high amounts. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) also adversely affect zinc levels when they are taken regularly.

Symptoms of a Zinc Deficiency Some of the most common symptoms which may be a sign of zinc deficiency include the following: Lowered Immunity Poor Memory Breast and Prostate Cancer Infertility Loss of Libido Frequent Colds or Flus Abnormal Hair Loss Slow Thinking Process Spots on Fingernails Low Energy Insomnia Loss of Taste or Smell Sinus Problems and Allergies Skin Rashes / Eczema Loss of Appetite Your Immune Health is Dependent on Zinc

Zinc is required to maintain immune function and control the Th-1 and Th-2 systems. These systems are a critical part of immune modulation. Zinc increases the activity of the human cytokine interferon alpha responsible for preventing viral replication. Doing so limits the immunological stress on the body and improves immune coordination.

Superoxide dismutase enzymes (SODs) are strong intracellular antioxidants which are reliant on zinc for structure and function. These enzymes help inhibit viral infection and toxic debris from accumulating within cellular matrices. They protect a cell’s genomic sequences which are responsible for gene expression. Zinc Decreases Inflammation in the Body

The innate immune response is activated when the immune system detects a pathogen and triggers a series of reactions within the body. This process includes the Nuclear Factor – kappa Beta (NF-kB) pathway. Sensitive NF-kB signaling is needed to maintain a healthy immune system but can result in chronic inflammation when it becomes overstimulated.

The NF-kB process requires zinc to bind to a protein within its series to halt activity thus controlling inflammation within cells. When zinc is lacking in diet and absorption, the NF-kB pathway becomes overstimulated creating chronic inflammation which is associated with the development of degenerative disease.

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