Other researchers have also suggested that zinc prevents and combats cancer, but the new research is the first to understand the mechanism and how the mineral attacks only cancer cells, but leaves healthy ones.
The new research has tested the mineral on esophageal cancer cells, although the researchers at the University of Texas believe it would work just as well on other cancers. Esophageal cancer attacks the 'food pipe' that links the throat to the stomach, and is the sixth leading cause of cancer deaths around the world. The five-year survival rate is less than 20 per cent.
They've discovered that cancer cells emit calcium signals, and this attracts zinc, which inhibits the cancer cell's growth. This suggests that calcium and zinc are somehow linked, and 'talk' to each other, and this conversation blocks cancer.
Without sufficient levels of zinc in the body, this blocking cannot happen effectively. This would explain why many cancer patients are deficient in zinc, the researchers say, and also underlines the importance of zinc in our diet to prevent the disease developing in the first place. Taking zinc supplements is an important part of the daily regime, the researchers say, as is eating foods that are rich in zinc, such as spinach, beef, oysters, shrimp, and pumpkin and watermelon seeds.