Author: Jack Challem and Burton Berkson, M.D., Ph.D.
Source: The Complete Nutritional Program to Prevent and Reverse Insulin Resistance
Zinc, the second most abundant trace mineral in the body, plays critical roles in glucose regulation, the proper function of insulin, and weight control. A number of present-day factors have caused zinc deficiencies to become quite common. These factors include modern agricultural and food-processing practices that have caused the zinc content in our food supply to plummet, and the recent trend for Americans to avoid zinc-rich meats in favor of low-zinc processed convenience foods and vegetarian foods.
Unfortunately, deficiencies of zinc put people at greater risk for Syndrome X. A recent study of 3,575 rural and urban adults found that the prevalence of coronary artery disease, diabetes, and glucose intolerance was significantly higher among those consuming lower intakes of dietary zinc. This same study also found that as zinc intakes rose among subjects, there was a significantly lower prevalence of hypertension, high triglyceride levels, low HDL levels, and abdominal obesity. These, of course, are all components of Syndrome X.
Zinc and Insulin Function
The link between zinc deficiency and Syndrome X makes sense when you consider zinc’s role in insulin function. Zinc is needed to help the pancreas produce insulin, to allow insulin to work more effectively, and to protect insulin receptors on cells. In healthy individuals, you will recall, insulin is secreted from the pancreas after carbohydrates are eaten, and this hormone lowers glucose levels in the blood and drives sugar into the cells, where it can be used as fuel for energy.
When zinc levels are low, two things can happen. One, the pancreas may not secrete adequate amounts of insulin, so glucose levels remain high. Two, the insulin that is released may not work as effectively as it should. When this happens, glucose cannot enter cells and remains elevated in the blood. The body typically responds to high glucose levels by pumping out more and more insulin in an effort to lower glucose levels, but the insulin doesn’t work properly, so insulin levels rise and stay high. When this happens, Syndrome X and the cascade of health problems that accompany it can result.