By Dr. Brian McDonough, Medical Editor

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – It is not something we talk about often but there is a micronutrient in our body that plays a critical role – it’s zinc.

Zinc helps regulate gene expression and helps in hundreds of chemical reactions in the body. But zinc can fall to dangerously low levels in certain conditions like alcoholism and illnesses that affect absorption.

When you have zinc deficiency, there are all sorts of problems including hair loss, diarrhea, and problems with immunity.

How do you get zinc?

Zinc can be found naturally in beef, poultry and seafood. Zinc seems to help with wound healing and respiratory infections. Some say that there is a role for zinc supplementation. People with zinc deficiency really can benefit perhaps, but for people with normal zinc levels, there is no clear support for this.