Zinc is an essential mineral known to improve skin tone, aid wound healing, fight cancer and shorten the length of the common cold. Researchers publishing in the journal Neuron now identify the crucial role this super-nutrient plays in support of memory formation and cognitive stability. Additionally, they have found that zinc may also play a part in controlling the devastating occurrence of epileptic seizures.
For the first time, scientists have been able to watch zinc in action as the nutrient regulates communications between neurons and the hippocampus to improve memory and learning capabilities. Ensuring proper intake of zinc is an important step toward optimal brain function and may prevent cognitive decline as we age.
Zinc Improves Communication between Neurons to Improve Cognition
Researchers at Duke University Medical Center and chemists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology collaborated to study the effects of zinc on brain function. Scientists experimenting with mice used a chemical that binds with zinc to eliminate it from the brain of the test animals. They found that in the absence of the mineral, communications between neurons was significantly diminished and that zinc is vital for controlling the efficiency between nerve cells in the hippocampus.
For more than a half century, scientists have understood that high concentrations of zinc are deposited within nerve cells, called vesicles that package the transmitters which enable nerve cells to communicate. The highest concentrations of brain zinc are found among the neurons of the hippocampus that control the high functions of learning and memory.
Researchers Find Zinc Levels in the Brain Control Memory and Learning Functions
By artificially regulating the level of zinc in the brain of the test animals, researchers were able to confirm that eliminating zinc from the neural vesicles also prevented enhanced communication. By increasing levels of the mineral, they were able to significantly restore enhanced communications in the hippocampal region to improve learning and memory capabilities.
The results of this study conducted using mice can be extrapolated to humans because zinc is known to play a similar role in the brain of both species. Zinc deficiency in the typical western diet is rapidly becoming a serious problem that threatens human health. Due to poor farming practices and the abundance of nutrient-deprived processed foods, many children and adults suffer from a chronic insufficiency of the mineral.
Over time, lack of zinc from dietary sources can result in immune system depression, decline in sexual health and increased risk of dementia and cognitive decline. Ideal dietary sources of zinc include liver, beef and lamb. Vegetarians can include nuts, seeds and peas to obtain the micronutrient. Alternatively, zinc supplements are available (30 to 50 mg per day) to help maintain healthy systemic levels that improve memory, learning and cognition.