Used in cigarette filters, as a corrosive, pigment and in the manufacture of rubber and concrete, zinc forms like zinc oxide and zinc suphate are also important nutrients for physiological wellbeing. And 18 new European Union health claims – the most of any mineral – may open new avenues.
The white powder mineral is not the star of the nutritional mineral family – big hitters like iron and calcium take that crown.
By means of comparison, SPINS data shows zinc supplements were worth about $21m in the past year in the US. Calcium came in at $440m although it fell 6.7%, whereas zinc grew by 12.2%.
Iron sold $88m, magnesium $68m. Just in food supplements, mind. Chromium sold $18m, selenium just over $5m.
Euromonitor figures for zinc oxide and zinc phenosulphinate (suphate) in all foods paint an erratic picture in global markets with zinc sales dipping dramatically in some countries like Turkey and Spain and even the US (zinc oxide sales fell from $700m in 2006 to $550m last year in the US).
But sales are rising in places like India and China - and Russia where at $190m sales of zinc sulphate are more than twice that of the next biggest market, the UK at about $80m.
If there were any doubts about the importance of zinc to the healthy functioning of the body, you only have to look to the European Union’s view of it.
Under its super-strict nutrition and health claims regulation (NHCR) that has approved about 250 claims and rejected upwards of 1500, zinc won 18 claims ranging from immunity to skin health to the maintenance of healthy vision.
A very decent haul indeed under a tough system with very high scientific requirements (some would say unrealistically high, but that’s another story).
It was not the only mineral to perform well under the general function, article 13 section of the regulation: Calcium was rewarded with 10 claims; magnesium 10; iron 12; selenium 6.
That EU register can be found here .
It is uncertain what effect the claims coup will have on zinc as the mineral’s most common use in nutritional terms is in multivitamins and a fortifier of some breakfast cereals – but given its relative cost efficiency and formulation ease, the fact it has approved claims may see this expand.
A couple of suppliers affirmed they were receiving more enquiries around zinc for inclusion in foodstuffs with the aim of adding associated health claims.
Zinc deficiencies are also being tackled around the world and nutrient suppliers are taking a role in ensuring greater numbers of people are able to meet basic levels and reduce the problem of malnutrition.
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies account for an estimated 7% of the global disease burden, while iron, vitamin A and zinc deficiencies rank among the top 10 leading causes of death due to disease in developing countries, according to DSM which just this week struck a new partnership with the United Nations World Food Program to deliver micronutrient solutions including zinc to those in the greatest need.
A recent Cochrane review comparing trials of iron supplementation suggested that use of micronutrient powders – containing vitamins and minerals such as iron, zinc and vitamin A – added to semi-solid foods of infants and children between six months and two years of age can effectively reduce their risk of anaemia and iron deficiency.