One of the most important minerals in the human body, zinc is essential for maintaining health and preventing disease. It assists the body by boosting the immune system and producing cells. According to the U.S. Library of Medicine, zinc deficiency can cause poor wound healing. As Dr. Richard Wood, physician at Tufts University, says in the book "Healing With Vitamins," "When you don't get enough zinc, normal healing doesn't occur."
Wounds result as a break in the structure of skin tissue. Healing takes place immediately after an injury and may continue for months. The repair of damaged cells and tissue occurs by the replacement of dead tissue with viable tissue.
Wounds require an increased need for skin cells. Zinc provides fast skin cell replication needed to heal cuts and wounds. A 1990 Swedish study published by the U.S. Library of Medicine discovered that zinc offers valuable results when used topically to treat leg ulcer wounds. Zinc aids in closing wounds as well as providing antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects.
Additionally, the U.S. Library of Medicine reported that a 2007 British study found that topical application of zinc ranks far superior to oral administration. Topical application reduces superinfections by enhancing local defense systems and producing collagen, the connective tissue that helps wounds heal.
Foods, rather than supplements, provide the body with the best source of zinc. According to the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements, "Oysters contain more zinc per serving than any other food, but red meat and poultry provide the majority of zinc in the American diet." Additional food sources of zinc include pork, nuts, yogurt, baked beans, chickpeas, Swiss cheese, crab and lobster.
Zinc is also available in tablet, capsule, nasal spray, cream and gel form. Although food ranks as the preferred source of zinc, you can choose from various zinc supplements to stimulate wound healing. The University of Maryland Medical Center recommends daily supplemental zinc dosages of 10 mg to 30 mg to hasten the healing process. Alternatively, the Center suggests applying a topical zinc cream on wounds to facilitate faster healing. However, only apply zinc creams on unbroken skin.
Topical application of zinc has no known adverse effects. However, more is not better, and zinc overdose can occur with supplements. The University of Michigan Health System cautions that regular use of zinc supplements in excess of 150 mg daily may increase your risk of anemia and cause stomach upset, fatigue, metallic taste in the mouth and blood in the urine. In addition, increased dietary zinc may decrease mental performance in people with Alzheimer's disease.
According to the University of Michigan Health System, the average American diet commonly provides zinc levels insufficient to meet the Recommended Dietary Allowance. Low levels of vitamin B6, oral penicillin therapy, water pills, alcoholism and certain vegetarian diets may interfere with zinc absorption. Increased calcium intake may also interfere with zinc's absorption rate.
In addition to delayed wound healing, signs of possible zinc deficiency include impaired immune function, weight loss, bloating, skin rash, bedsores, hair loss, loss of menstrual periods and depression. Diarrhea, impotence and eye lesions may also occur.
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Wounds
- National Center for BIotechnology Information: Studies on Zinc in Wound Healing
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: Zinc in Wound Healing—Theoretical, Experimental, and Clinical Aspects
- National Center for BIotechnology Information: The Role of Zinc in Wound Healing