Zinc is one of the key minerals in the body’s cellular development, growth and reproduction. There is about 2 to 3 grams of zinc (Zn) in the human body, 60% in the muscles, 30% in the bones, and about 0,1% in the plasma. In addition to skeletal muscles and bones, Zn is also found in our kidneys, pancreas, retina, teeth, hair, skin, liver, prostate and testicles.
The human body is unable to produce or maintain Zn for a long time, so it is necessary to get it from food or from food supplements.
Zinc and its beneficial effects are known in the treatment of a wide variety of diseases. For example, Zn is used as a treatment for growth problems and remedy for diarrhea in children. Also for strengthening the immune system, treating colds, ear infections and lower respiratory diseases. Zinc preparations have been used in the treatment of malaria, in wound creams for acne and psoriasis, in the treatment of sunburns, blisters and other skin infections.
Zinc reduces premature hair loss and has anti-dandruff effects. Since Zn benefits to the normal growth of the cells, its deficiency weakens the cells and can lead to hair loss and scalp cell damage. Zn is also useful for collagen formation. Collagen is important for our skin, joints, bones, teeth and blood vessels.
It is important to know here that these symptoms may not only be related to zinc deficiency, but also to some other medical condition, so you should not start to diagnose yourself immediately.
So what exactly are the symptoms of the zinc deficiency? Who is at risk to suffer from it? How to test the deficiency at home and what should you do to treat it? The good news is you’ve come to the right place. We’re here to help guide you every step of the way – with all of the support you’ll need.
Zinc benefits – Why is zinc important and which organism processes need it?
Sexual motivation and hormones
- Zinc is a necessary trace element in the synthesis and function of thyroid, sex hormones and growth factors. Trace elements (also iron, iodine, fluoride, copper, chromium, selenium, manganese and molybdenum) are part of enzymes, hormones and cells in the body. They are vital for maintaining health.
- This mineral plays a very important role in the body’s hormonal function. For example, Zn directly affects the production and functional activity of insulin and thus the spectrum of all insulin-dependent processes. Zinc promotes insulin synthesis, secretion, and stock formation.
- In men, Zn is involved in the synthesis of testosterone and in the processes of gonadal function, so it is possible to associate zinc levels in organism between potency and gonadal disorders in children.
- Zinc is also indispensable for the female body as it belongs to the structure of estrogen receptors, thereby regulating the course of all estrogen-regulated processes. During pregnancy, the body needs this mineral to ensure normal growth and development.
Genetic material and cell division
- Zinc plays a very important role in copying genetic material, cell division and formation. Zn is indispensable for the function of DNA and RNH polymerase by participating in the transmission of hereditary information and the biosynthesis of proteins.
Digestive organs, blood composition, immune system etc.
- From zinc levels in the body depends the function of digestive organs (Zn activates digestive enzymes), taste and smell senses, response rate, mental abilities, advancement in learning process and others.
- The body also needs Zn for skin, hair and nail growth.
- It helps to heal wounds faster.
- Zinc is helping to stabilize arterial blood pressure and blood composition, prevents food allergies, protects the brain from premature aging, and is essential for the functioning of the central nervous system. It also includes memory processes. The work of Zn on monitoring processes in the body can be compared to the work of a policeman on the street.
- Zinc is a strong antioxidant. Being a retinol-binding protein (RBP), Zn together with vitamins A and C help to prevent and reduce immune deficiencies by stimulating antibody synthesis and antiviral activity. This means that this mineral helps the immune system fight viruses, bacteria, allergens and carcinogens.
- It also helps (in small amounts) to remove toxic heavy metals from your body, including mercury and lead (activates the corresponding metals).
- Zinc also accelerates the burning of excess fat in the body and removes excess alcohol from the body.
- Zinc plays an important role in eye health because of the large amount of Zn present in the retina of the eye. It helps vitamin A to produce pigment called melanin, the role of which is to protect the eye. Also, it helps you to see better in the dark. Studies have shown that taking zinc with antioxidants such as vitamin C, A and E can reduce the degeneration of the macula and slow down the loss of vision in old age. In severe cases, Zn deficiency can also cause changes in the retina of the eye. Here, it is important to remember that too much zinc has a bad effect on eye health, so you should not overdo it with taking Zn preparations.
What kind of health problems can zinc deficiency cause?
- Immune system: Low immune system and weak ability to defend against infections. Acute respiratory diseases, influenza, viral diseases and lymph node enlargement. Need for Zn is higher in case of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
- Cardiovascular system: Elevated cholesterol levels.
- Liver: Hepatitis, cirrhosis, alcoholism, drug addiction, gastritis.
- Pituitary gland, also called Hypophysis: Growth disorders in children, disorders in boys’ sexual maturation, loss of potency, infertility.
- Skin: Dermatitis, eczema, furuncles, acne, slow wound healing, trophic ulcers.
- Hair: Dandruff, hair loss and premature graying.
- Central nervous system: Decreased appetite, poor memory.
- Prostate: Risk of adenoma, prostate cancer and cysts.
- Pancreas: Diabetes and pre-diabetes.
- Retina: Decreased visual acuity.
What Causes Zinc Deficiency?
Zn deficiency can occur in case of:
- Excessive consumption of plant based diet (vegetarian), salty and sweet food
- Chronic diseases
- Consumption of drugs
- Permanent stress
- Excessive sweating
- Vitamin B8 deficiency
- As a result of aging
Who are the risk groups for the deficiency?
Up to 70% of people can suffer from Zn deficiency today, espessially:
- Babies, children and young people
- Pregnant women
- People with persistent and/or prolonged diarrhea
- Those who suffer from digestive disorders
Source: National Institutes of Health
The daily and therapeutic doses of zinc
The daily intake of Zn is 7 to 15 mg, the therapeutic dose is 25 to 60 mg, while the safe long-term therapeutic dose is 50 mg.
In therapeutic doses, Zn initiates healing processes, fights inflammation, accelerates healing, helps cure skin and infectious diseases, cancer, and other diseases. The effectiveness of Zn becomes apparent only weeks or months later.
There are few Zn poisonings. It has been observed that 4-8 g of Zn can cause poisoning. Characteristic symptoms include nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, headache, fever and weakened immune system. In this case, these effects occur within 3 to 10 hours after the administration of the dietary supplements and disappear within a short period of time after discontinuation of the food supplements.
If you use too much nasal spray and gels containing zinc, there may be a temporary loss of sense of smell.
Long-term excessive intake of Zn mainly affects the absorption of other minerals, such as iron and copper.
Vitamins A and B6, calcium, phosphorus, glucose, lactose and red wine contribute to the uptake of Zn. The daily intake of zinc for vegetarians is about a quarter higher than for those who eat also meat product. It`s because phytates in vegetable foods prevent the absorption of this mineral. They form compounds that are difficult to absorb with minerals.
Therefore, in order not to suffer from zinc deficiency, vegetarians should consume more Zn. They can maintain zinc effectively from nuts, seeds and legumes.
Zinc Deficiency Symptoms and Signs
- White spots on the nails and skin are the signs that you already suffer from existing Zn deficiency.
- Zn is also used by the body in salivary glands function. Appetite changes may also indicate Zn deficiency if, for example, there is a greater need than usual to consume sweet or salty foods. Also, changes in taste and smell, weight gain and decrease. Our taste sensation depends on this mineral. The absence of Zn will reduce the function of the flavor receptors and we will no longer be able to distinguish between the flavor and the taste of the food. Older people lose zinc levels in the body, so they start to feel less taste and therefore consume more salt and sugar.
- Zinc helps with circulatory disorders, so those with problems with blood circulation and fainting, could take Zn in the form of supplements. Zn preparations are recommended also for alcohol users, iron supplement consumers, liver cirrhosis and gastrointestinal diseases.
- In addition, pregnant women with skin problems and frequent nausea should also consume Zn supplements.
- Increased stress can also lead to Zn deficiency, in this case you should use dietary supplements for prevention.
- To find out if there is zinc deficiency in the body, try the so-called tasting test at home. For this, mix 50 milligrams of Zn sulphate with half glass of water. If the liquid seems sweet and has a pleasant taste to you, or it seems like ordinary water – it means that the body needs more zinc. If the liquid seems metallic and rather unpleasant to you, it means that there is already enough zinc in your body.
- A more solid method of Zn deficiency testing is to have a blood test done by the doctor.
Source: National Institutes of Health
The Best Natural Sources of Zinc
The best natural sources of zinc are bitter cherry grass, birch, raspberry, buckwheat, cocoa, common sesame, wheat germ, pumpkin and flax seed, blueberry, sage, beef, fish, seafood like lobsters and crabs, cheese and eggs.
You’ll likely notice that there are several different types of zinc supplements available. Which one to take? In capsule, tablet, or lozenge form? There are plenty of options to get your daily dose of zinc regardless of the form you pick. However, you might want to choose Zinc diglycinate bioactive form as it is highly soluble.
Different types of Zinc on the market:
- Gluconate: Zn gluconate is often used in cold remedies, such as lozenges and nasal sprays.
- Acetate: Zn acetate is often added to cold lozenges to reduce symptoms and speed up the rate of recovery.
- Sulfate: Zn sulfate has been shown to reduce the severity of acne.
- Picolinate: Some research suggests that your body may absorb this form better than other types of zinc, including zinc gluconate and zinc citrate.
- Orotate: This form is one of the most common types of zinc supplements on the market.
- Citrate: There is a study that showed, that this type of zinc supplement is as well-absorbed as zinc gluconate but has a less bitter, and more appealing taste.
- Diglycinate: Zinc diglycinate, which is bioactive and easily absorbable, is an essential mineral to keep the whole organism functioning.
Avoid over consumption
Zn preparations can have an effect on some drugs, such as antibiotics and anti-baby pills. This mineral may also affect the absorption of other food supplements such as calcium, magnesium, copper and iron.
Zinc metabolism in the body is associated with iron and copper, so the absorption of Zn may be reduced when taking iron preparations.
The higher Zn content in turn prevents copper absorption and promotes copper excretion (eg, treatment of Wilson’s disease). Therefore, it is strongly recommended to consult a physician or other expert before taking any zinc supplements.
Compiled by Maria-Helena Loik
Visuals by: Maria-Helena Loik
Sources: L and V. Mihkelsoo’s “Self-Healing Handbook”, Healthline.com, Ruslekar.info, Ods.od.nih.gov
Pictures: Pixabay.com, Pexels.com