Zinc, an essential trace mineral, is perhaps most widely known for its role in immune system health, as a zinc deficiency is associated with increased colds and flu. However, zinc is the most common mineral in your body aside from iron; it's actually found in every cell.1
You might not be aware that zinc also has potent antioxidant properties, helping to neutralize free radicals that may accelerate aging and contribute to the development of chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease.
New research shows, however, that zinc may boost heart health in another way as well, antioxidant properties aside.
Zinc May Help Regulate Your Heartbeat
Researchers from the University of Leicester uncovered that zinc plays a key role in regulating the way calcium moves in your heart cells.2 Normally, calcium is released through "gates" known as type-2 ryanodine receptors (RyR2).
Proper control of these gates is important, since excessive calcium release may lead to heart failure and fatal arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat).3
The researchers studied individual heart cells and found zinc directly interacts with and modulates RyR2 function, thereby playing an important role in your body's release of intracellular calcium stores.
Samantha Pitt, a Royal Society of Edinburgh Biomedical Fellow at the University's School of Medicine, told Medical Xpress:4
"Our discovery provides a mechanistic explanation of how zinc plays a key role in regulating heart muscle contractility and how imbalances in zinc may contribute to diseases such as heart failure and fatal arrhythmias.
… The ability of zinc to modulate RyR2 channels in the absence of calcium represents a paradigm shift in our understanding of how RyR2 is activated when heart muscle contracts.
Although just a first step, this kind of basic science research underpins our understanding of the pathophysiology of disease."
Past research has shown patients with congestive heart failure often have profound zinc deficiency,5 which adds to the growing support that zinc is crucial for heart health, and underscores the importance of consuming enough of this mineral via your diet.
Richard Rainbow, a lecturer in Cardiovascular Cell Physiology at the University of Leicester, continued in Medical Xpress:6
"It always amazes me that seemingly small changes in the concentration of an ion have such profound effects on cardiac cell function that, when in the context of the whole heart, would have severe consequences."