The Effects of Zinc on Kidney Functions

Animal products are the top sources of zinc.
Animal products are the top sources of zinc. (Image: pioneer111/iStock/Getty Images)

Zinc and the kidneys share a close working relationship. The mineral ensures normal development of a baby’s kidneys and continues to safeguard the kidneys' health throughout your life. The kidneys help regulate blood levels of zinc, excreting more or less depending on the body’s needs. This is vital because you need enough zinc to maintain a strong immune system and build bones, but too much zinc becomes toxic.

Zinc in Your Kidneys

Zinc helps build proteins throughout your body, including the kidneys. One of these proteins, called Glis2, is essential for maintaining the normal structure of kidney cells. Zinc also affects your kidneys through its ability to regulate genes. For example, zinc activates a gene that protects against damaging free radicals, which can harm your kidneys, according to a laboratory study published in the May 2014 issue of the "Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine."

Kidney Disease and Zinc

Zinc plays an especially important role when the kidneys are damaged. People with chronic kidney disease, or CKD, are often low in zinc because malfunctioning kidneys excrete too much zinc into the urine.

Low levels of zinc further aggravate kidney disease. A study reported in the "Journal of the American Society of Nephrology" in March 2015 found that lack of zinc contributed to the development of fibrosis, which is permanently damaged kidney tissue, in lab mice.

CKD patients with low zinc may also be at a higher risk for developing other health problems, including hardening of the arteries and depression, according to studies cited in "Renal & Urology News."

Effects of Too Much Zinc

Getting too much zinc may harm the kidneys and other parts of the renal system. When researchers from the University of Colorado analyzed the dietary habits of over 15,000 people, they found that a higher risk of kidney stones was associated with the consumption of more than the recommended intake of zinc.

Women using high doses of supplemental zinc are more likely to have urinary tract infections compared to those who don't take supplements. Men who consume large doses are at a higher risk of an enlarged prostate.

Recommended Intake

Your body doesn’t store zinc, so it’s important to get the recommended intake every day. For women that means consuming 8 milligrams of zinc daily, while men need 11 milligrams. Oysters, meat, poultry, lobster and crab are the best sources of zinc. Other good choices include yogurt, baked beans and enriched breakfast cereals.

MedlinePlus advises talking to your doctor before taking zinc supplements because they may cause kidney and stomach damage. Never consume more than the safe upper limit of 40 milligrams daily except on the recommendation of your physician.

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