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Zinc for Acne
Zinc is a mineral supplement that can correct hormonal imbalance and kill off the bacteria responsible for acne.
Zinc is an essential but trace elements in all life forms. It is the second most important mineral in humans after iron and it is the only mineral found in all classes of enzymes.
A typical human normally holds 2 – 4 g of zinc in his body. This is mostly found in the prostate gland, parts of the eyes, brains, bones, muscles, kidneys and liver. Zinc is also found bound to many proteins and it is transported and used bound in such forms.
Zinc transport in the body is mostly managed by the proteins, albumin and transferrin.
Transferrin also binds to and transports iron and copper. This means that zinc competes with these minerals. Therefore, it can affect their absorption and vice versa.
Zinc also competes with copper at the intestine. The absorption of both minerals is managed by a compound called metallothionein which is found in intestinal cells. Metallothionein can affect the absorption of zinc by 15 – 40%.
The recommended dietary intake of zinc is 8 mg/day for women and 11 mg/day for men.
The biological roles of zinc are extensively studied. The mineral is needed for gene expression, signal transduction and for the proper functioning of RNA and DNA.
It is also involved in neurotransmitter activity in the brain and can regulate excitability as well as promote adaptability of the synapses and so improve learning.
Zinc ions have antimicrobial properties even at low concentrations. They are sometimes included in topical antimicrobial preparations as zinc pyrithione which is an anti-dandruff preparation or taken orally to kill harmful microorganisms in the gastrointestinal tract.
Different salts of zinc are used in supplements. Studies have shown that zinc glycinate and zinc picolinate are better absorbed than zinc oxide, zinc carbonate, zinc citrate and zinc gluconate.
Zinc deficiency can be caused by low dietary intake of the mineral and also by medical conditions such as malabsorption of zinc, renal and liver diseases, diabetes, sickle cell anemia, and cancers.
Since zinc is an extensively distributed mineral in the body which is involved in many essential reactions, symptoms of zinc deficiency are diverse. Some of these symptoms are delayed growth and sexual maturation, impotence, diarrhea, hair loss, cognitive problems, immune system impairment, abnormal carbohydrate metabolism and skin lesions such as acne.
While vegetarians can get their daily zinc requirements from nuts, seeds, beans and fortified cereals, some plant food sources also contain phytate which chelates zinc and reduces its absorption.
Therefore, zinc supplements are still recommended for vegetarians in order to prevent zinc deficiency and acne.
It is estimated that globally, almost 2 billion people have zinc deficiency. This is mostly caused by low levels of zinc intake and diets rich in plants grown in zinc-deficient soils. Zinc supplements are useful for increasing zinc levels in people who are deficient in the mineral.
While zinc deficiency is dangerous, zinc toxicity is just as harmful. Free zinc ions have been shown to be toxic to plants even in small amounts. Free zinc ions will dissolve in stomach acid to form zinc chloride which is a corrosive compound.
Furthermore, excess zinc affects the absorption of iron and copper. Therefore, it can induce deficiencies of these minerals. This is the main reason why zinc supplements are supplied in combination with other minerals.
The FDA specifically bans zinc-based intranasal preparations following reports that zinc damages the nerve receptors in the nose.
Zinc is effective in the treatment of acne for a number of reasons. However, the two most important benefits of zinc to acne patients are its antimicrobial properties and its ability to reduce the production of dihydrotestosterone.
A study published in the International Journal of Dermatology in 1982 established that zinc levels in acne patients were lower than in the general population.
In fact, the lower the amount of serum zinc, the more severe the acne in the study participants. In addition, women generally have lower zinc levels than men.
These findings are not surprising considering that zinc deficiency causes a number of skin conditions. These include stretch marks, varicose veins, boils, vitiligo, psoriasis, eczema and acne.
Teenage girls and women are most affected by this direct link between zinc levels and acne. This is because zinc and its balance with other mineral such as copper are lost during menstruation.
Because zinc is involved in the metabolism of different hormones including testosterone, low levels of zinc create the condition needed for increased conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone or DHT.
DHT is one of the androgens that contribute to the hormonal cause of acne.
The first acne breakouts usually occur during the teenage years when there is an increased production of male sex hormones in the body. The male sex hormones that promote acne breakout are testosterone and its metabolites such as DHT.
DHT causes the enlargement of the sebaceous gland which increases the production of sebum. It also promotes hyperkeratinization which leads to an increased formation of dead skin cells.
The net effects of DHT and P. acnes include the clogging of the skin pores (which leads to the appearance of whiteheads and blackheads) and an abnormal cycle of inflammation (which leads to the appearance of papules, pimples, nodules and cysts).
Therefore, zinc can help reduce acne breakout by reducing the amount of DHT produced. This effectively stops the root cause of acne breakouts.
Furthermore, zinc is an effective antimicrobial agent. In a study published in Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics in 1992, zinc ions were found to be potent antimicrobial agents even in low concentrations.
Therefore, it is possible that topical zinc preparations can effectively kill off the population of acne-causing bacteria such as P. acnes on the skin.
Yet another positive effect zinc has on acne is its anti-inflammatory effects. In a study published in Acta Dermato-Venereologica by French researchers, low doses of zinc gluconate (the zinc salt contained in the anti-acne formulation, Actimine) were given to study participants suffering from inflammatory acne.
Even at 200 mg/day of zinc gluconate (30 mg/day of elemental zinc), the symptoms of acne inflammation such as pimples, nodules and cysts were much improved compared to the placebo group.
The anti-inflammatory effect of zinc is attributed to its actions on granulocytes which are immune cells involved in inflammation. Zinc is absorbed by and secreted from all granulocytes.
Lastly, zinc is required for the absorption of vitamins A and E.
These are essential vitamins in acne treatment. They help reduce sebum production and the breakdown of keratin while also providing an antioxidant cover that protects the skin.
Zinc supplements should be combined with other anti-acne supplements in acne treatment. Zinc can help improve the effect of other supplements such as vitamins A, B and E.
While topical zinc preparations can provide immediate antibacterial effects on the skin, zinc is recommended to be taken orally for acne treatment. This is because most of its positive effects are provided internally.
To correct hormonal imbalances, reduce inflammation, boost immunity, increase the absorption of vitamin A and produce its antioxidant effects, zinc must be orally ingested.
There are many zinc supplements to choose from. However, the form of zinc found to be effective in acne treatment in most studies is zinc gluconate.
Actimine, an effective anti-acne supplement contains this form of zinc and in a concentration (10 mg/capsule or 30 mg/day) that provides the most therapeutic benefits without causing zinc toxicity.
The upper tolerable intake limit of zinc is 40 mg/day.
Zinc supplements should not be taken along with tetracycline antibiotics (including minocycline and doxycycline) or quinolone antibiotics such as ciprofloxacin. This is because the drug-drug interactions will affect the absorption of zinc and the antibiotics.
Where zinc supplements are recommended along with antibiotics for acne treatment, the zinc supplements should be taken 6 hours before or 2 hours after the antibiotics.
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