Zinc is a vital trace mineral that is required for a healthy immune system and DNA repair. It also fights oxidative damage, plays a role in cell division and growth, enables a sense of taste and smell, speeds wound healing and facilitates the breakdown of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. There is no need to mention, zinc deficiency – something that is spread worldwide and about two billion people have experienced– won’t let you feel good like at your best days.
Keep reading to find out if you’re at risk of zinc deficiency, and discover what you can do about it.
Why the Role of Zinc is So Essential?
Zinc is a very important mineral. This is due to its role in the catalytic activity of approximately 300 enzymes as well as in numerous aspects of cellular metabolism such as those mentioned above.
For pregnant women, maintaining optimal levels of zinc is even more important as it supports normal growth and development of the fetus.
Given that even mild zinc deficiency contributes to a number of health problems, we must get zinc from our diets every single day, particularly as our body is unable to store the mineral.
Are You at Risk of Zinc Deficiency?
Certain people are more at risk of a deficiency than others, including:
- Those who have an inadequate diet
- Vegetarians and vegans, as the most bioavailable sources of zinc are animal based
- Those with gastrointestinal diseases which inhibit absorption, including ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, short bowel syndrome and chronic diarrhea
- Those with chronic liver or kidney disease
- Those with diabetes
- Alcoholics, as alcohol decreases zinc absorption and increases urinary zinc excretion
- Those supplementing large amounts of iron
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women
8 Warning Signs you are Zinc Deficient
Are you concerned that you might have zinc deficiency? Below are some of the signs that you should be aware of:
- Poor Immunity
If the amount of zinc is decreased, one of the first signs may be that you’re falling ill more frequently.
The immune system, our body’s protection against infection and disease, is strongly influenced by our nutrient intake, including that of zinc.
Zinc helps cell growth and facilitates production of the white blood cells that we need to fight bacteria and viruses. It also plays a role in apoptosis – or cell ‘suicide’ – which means that the cells which are no more necessary or are maybe a threat to the health are programmed to die.
- Damaged Sense of Smell and Taste
Have you noticed that recently the roses that are prizewinning do not smell to you the way they used to? Or perhaps, your morning dark roast coffee all of a sudden have taste like it is instant?
An adequate amount of zinc is necessary for the synthesis of the enzyme carbonic anhydrase which is critical to smell and taste, which means that the loss of mentioned senses that are essential is one classic sign of chronic zinc deficiency.
- Slow Growing or Damaged Nails
Because zinc plays a role in cell division and growth and facilitates healing, not getting enough may mean your hair and nails suffer.
The cells that produce skin, hair and fingernails need steady levels of zinc in order to promote healthy growth of these tissues, according to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University. The result of that are lines or white flecks that can be noticed appearing on the nails, or the nails can grow slowly or prone to splitting.
Make sure to check out these other warning signs your nails are sending you.
- Conditions of the Skin
Pimples, acne that are cystic and even some rashes on the skin can be as a result of suboptimal amount of zinc.
The above conditions can be manifested as a result of the fact that zinc assists in the proper structure of proteins and cell membranes, has anti-inflammatory effects and even protects against the UV radiation that leads to premature ageing.
One research has revealed that individuals that are blemish-free have higher amount of zinc in the serum than women and men that have serious acne.
Zinc also interacts with, and increases, Vitamin A (retinol) levels in the body – another nutrient that plays a huge role in healthy skin.
- Poor Wound Healing
Delayed wound healing is another common sign that you need more zinc in your diet. Without this important co-factor, cells have difficulties to divide and to grow at the time interval as they should, resulting in longer healing times.
Research has found that topically applied zinc encourages wound healing and reverses deficiencies, as does consuming zinc from diet or supplements.
Zinc supplementation is also said to be particularly effective at speeding up the healing of cold sores around the mouth.
- Vision Loss
If you’re struggling to see at night, or even during daylight, consider your diet.
High levels of the mineral are found in the macula, part of the eye’s retina, leading researchers to believe that zinc is vital for vision. Zinc also enables Vitamin A to create melanin, which protects the eye. Some studies show that getting enough zinc can improve night vision.
The clinical large- scale research revealed that consuming zinc and other essential eye-vitamins every day can slow the progression (by 25%) of Age-Related Macular Degeneration (the leading cause of vision loss in the US) and the loss of the visual acuity loss in those where the risk for the disease is high (by 19%).
- Poor Memory and Attention Span
This incredible nutrient also plays a pivotal role in supporting the formation of the memory and the stability that is cognitive as it is crucial in regulating the communication between and the hippocampus and the neurons and improving learning capabilities and memory.
Researchers behind one study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, discovered that a zinc supplement providing just 50% of the recommended daily allowance caused the attention span in participants to improve.
It should be noted that the zinc was best absorbed when provided along with a proper balance of other nutrients, such as those found in whole foods, as opposed to supplements.
- Depression or Stress
Learning and memory aren’t the only parts of the brain that zinc affects – it plays a role in modulating the brain and body’s response to stress.
Zinc has been found to be lacking in the serum of people experiencing depression. Incredibly, the more depressed someone is, the lower the serum zinc level! That goes for stress too – as typically when we are stressed, depressed or both, our bodies require extra nutrients to deal with the physical implications of these emotions.
Supplementing with zinc has been shown to have antidepressant effects, and treatment with antidepressants usually returns serum zinc levels to normal.
How Much Zinc Do I Need?
According to the National Institutes of Health, men over 19 years of age need 11 mg of zinc, whereas women require just 8 mg. Women who are pregnant also require 11 mg, while those breastfeeding should strive for 12 mg daily. Those with a deficiency may initially require more to bring bodily levels back to normal levels.
If any of the above symptoms sound familiar, you may be deficient in zinc and a visit to the doctor could be in order! Treatment may include zinc supplementation or simply eating more zinc-rich foods.
Although it’s unlikely that you will overdose on zinc through diet, it is possible to get too much from taking supplements.
Side effects of excessive zinc include nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and headaches. The tolerable upper intake for all adults aged 19+ is 40 mg a day, unless advised otherwise by a physician.
Best Food Sources to Overcome Zinc Deficiency
Because it is easier, healthier and safer to get adequate zinc intake from a balanced diet which contains the appropriate levels of other important nutrients too, here are some kinds of food that are the best supply of zinc:
- 3 oz cooked oysters – 445% DV
- Beef ribs, a rack– 258%
- 1 cup toasted wheat – 158%
- 1 cup cashews – 51%
- 3 oz lean pork – 28%
- 1 cup adzuki beans, cooked – 27%
- 1 oz pumpkin, squash and sesame seeds – 19%
- 29g square dark cooking chocolate – 19%
- 1 cup chickpeas, cooked – 17%
- 1 cup kidney beans, cooked – 12%
- 1 oz pine nuts – 12%
- 1 cup spinach, cooked – 9%
Factors Affecting Zinc Absorption
Tea and coffee both hinder zinc absorption, as do foods and supplements rich in calcium and iron.
The bio-availability of this mineral from diets that are not vegetarian can be higher because the mineral can be absorbed more easily from meat. In addition, non-meat eaters tend to consume lots of legumes and whole grains, which contain anti-nutrients that can inhibit zinc absorption.
For these reasons, vegetarians can require as much as 50% more than the non-vegetarian daily intakes listed above. However, a 2003 report published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition notes that the zinc deficiency that is typical for nations that are impoverished and are due to the diets that are plant-based are not correlated with diets in countries that are wealthier (like US) and are vegetarian ones.
But if you do follow a predominantly vegetarian or vegan diet, supplementation might be wise to avoid or reverse a deficiency in this all important mineral.