A study from the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Research Institute (CHORI) found that zinc can decrease wear and tear in our DNA. It turns out that taking an extra four milligrams of zinc every day is beneficial to cells in fighting infections and diseases.

The study, now in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, is the first one to show that extra dietary zinc, which is important to how proteins regulate every cell in our body, decreases oxidative stress and damage to DNA, which can lead to the development of cardiovascular illnesses and cancers. “We were pleasantly surprised to see that just a small increase in dietary zinc can have such a significant impact on how metabolism is carried out throughout the body,” said the study’s lead researcher, CHORI Senior Scientist Janet King. “These results present a new strategy for measuring the impact of zinc on health and reinforce the evidence that food-based interventions can improve micronutrient deficiencies worldwide.”

The research team studied how zinc affects the body’s metabolism during a study that lasted six weeks. They said they counted DNA strand breaks or damage. They then determined that zinc is crucial in preventing inflammation and oxidative stress in a person’s body. If the body is deficient in this nutrient, its ability to repair DNA wear and tear is diminished. It also plays a role in childhood growth and the development of a healthy immune system.

Although people around the world eat polished white rice or highly refined wheat or maize flours, these foods do not provide enough zinc as well as other essential micronutrients. The findings suggest that zinc must be included in the diet to solve hunger and malnutrition. The researchers add that biofortification or including biofortified crops in one’s diet, such as consuming zinc rice and zinc wheat,  can solve zinc deficiency.