The Role of Zinc on Mental Health

Zinc is one of the top essential nutrients in the human body, second to Iron in the trace metal mineral category. It is an important catalyst in the synthesis of over a 1000 proteins and plays a key role in a number of important metabolic functions of the body such as cell signalling, DNA replication, transcription and enzyme catalysis. Zinc is found in various foods, including meat, seafood, dairy products, and nuts, and can also be taken as a dietary supplement.

Zinc is also known to be essential for neural development, learning and memory function, and more than a few studies recently have proven a link between Zinc deficiency and Depression, anxiety and lowered cognitive function. One of the most important roles of zinc in mental health is its ability to support the function of the nervous system. Zinc is involved in the synthesis and function of neurotransmitters, which are chemicals that transmit signals in the brain and throughout the body. It is also necessary for the formation and maintenance of the protective myelin sheath that surrounds nerve fibres.

Zinc also plays a role in the regulation of mood. Studies have shown that people with depression tend to have lower levels of zinc in their blood. Supplementation with zinc has been found to have a positive effect on symptoms of depression and anxiety.

A meta-analysis published in December 2013 in Biological Psychiatry analysed 17 studies and found that depressed people tended to have about 14 percent less zinc in their blood than most people do on average, and the deficiency was greater among those with more severe depression.

Although there is a clear link between Zinc and brain performance, including mood stability, what exactly is the role of Zinc in your neural chemistry?

In order to understand this link, it is important first to note the prevalence and regional occurrence of Zinc.

The human body contains 2-3 mg of zinc throughout the entire body, but the concentration of Zinc is exceptionally higher in the regions of the brain which are involved with emotions, such as the hippocampus, amygdala, frontal cortex, and the olfactory bulb.

Zinc is also highly concentrated in the synaptic vesicles of specific neurons, in ionic form and is released into the synaptic cleft when there is a ‘neuronal activity’. Hence, Zinc plays an important role in synaptic transmission and also acts as a modulator of both, inhibitory as well as excitatory neurotransmission.

Due to its location, zinc can modulate excitability in the brain by its influence on the glutamatergic receptors as well as GABA receptors.

Zinc also influences neurotransmitter activity involved in most emotional processes of the brain including the serotonin, dopamine and noradregenic pathways. Additionally, zinc is involved in the regulation of the HPA axis, which is a system in the body that helps to control stress response.

The influence of nutritional elemental zinc and depression are highly connected, i.e. zinc activates hormonal, neurotransmitter and signalling pathways in the gut which modulate brain functions like appetite, sleep, neurogenesis, cognitive function and mood. Disruption of these biological rhythms have been considered traits of mood disorders and cognitive dysfunction is a prevalent feature of mood disorders.

Zinc also plays a more direct role in cognitive function and memory. It is necessary for the proper functioning of the hippocampus, a part of the brain that is important for memory and learning. Studies have found that zinc deficiency can lead to cognitive decline, and that supplementation with zinc can improve cognitive function in older adults.

On a wider spectrum, deficiencies in Zinc have also been shown to have a link with mental and neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s, BPD, anxiety, Schizophrenia and depression. Supplementation with Zinc has been found to be beneficial in the management of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Zinc has antioxidant properties that protect the brain from damage caused by free radicals, and also plays a role in the regulation of the immune system.

In summary, zinc plays an important role in the management of depression, anxiety and neurological conditions. Zinc supplementation has been found to be beneficial in improving symptoms of depression and anxiety, cognitive decline, and neurodegenerative diseases. It’s important to note though, that excessive zinc intake may lead to negative side effects. It’s important to consult a physician or a dietitian before taking any dietary supplements. Also, zinc should not be used as a sole treatment for depression, anxiety or other neurological conditions. It should be used as a complementary therapy, along with other treatment options recommended by a healthcare professional.

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