Science: Zinc may play a role in fighting oxidative stress

Zinc is a key mineral in a healthy body, and we need to consume it as part of our diet to replenish our body’s supply of it.

It also, new research finds, plays a role in protecting the body against oxidative stress, a damaging process caused by an imbalance of antioxidants in the body.

Researchers from Germany and the U.S. have found that zinc can activate an organic molecule that helps to protect against oxidative stress. When taken with a chemical component commonly found in coffee, tea and chocolate, zinc activates the component in a way that produces natural protection against superoxide, a normal byproduct of cell respiration that damages your body’s molecules.

The chemical component is a hydroquinone group found in polyphenols, which gives plants their smell and taste. When combined with zinc, they create another chemical complex that functions similarly to the enzymes that protect the body from oxidative stress.

Oxidative stress in the body

Oxidative stress boils down to imbalances in the body between two things: free radicals and antioxidants. Free radicals are oxygen-containing molecules with an uneven number of electrons. Antioxidants are chemical compounds that inhibit oxidation by essentially donating electrons to free radicals, making them stable. In a sense, antioxidants protect bodies from the effects of free radicals. If there’s an imbalance, free radicals are, well, free to damage the body.

With the imbalance, free radicals can more easily cause chemical reactions (called oxidation) in the body by reacting with other molecules. To a degree, oxidation is normal and free radicals help fight pathogens, but an imbalance leads to the same free radicals beginning to cause damage to fatty tissue, DNA and proteins in the body — which is oxidative stress.

Oxidative stress is part of why our bodies are impacted by age and is thought to play a role in health problems like cancer and various neurodegenerative diseases.

Most of us get zinc from red meat, poultry and fish, but there’s talk of supplementing other foods with zinc, like coffee and chocolate, in order to booster their positive health effects. So stay tuned — perhaps anti-aging chocolate is just beyond the horizon?

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