Zinc: Deficiency, Sources & Benefits

by | Apr 30, 2024 | Uncategorized

Essential for over 200 enzymatic reactions in our bodies, zinc is not just another nutrient—it’s a cornerstone of health, especially as we gear up for the chilly seasons of colds and flu. 

The Vital Role of Zinc in Human Health 

Did you know that zinc is involved in everything from immune function to brain health and muscle repair? It’s found in a variety of food sources that span from the natural goodness of human breast milk to the robust flavors of meats and shellfish, as well as in nutritious plant-based options like leafy greens and legumes. Beyond fueling our bodies, zinc plays a crucial role in regulating sleep cycles, cognitive functions (thanks to its action in the hippocampus), and even the production of mood-enhancing neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine. 

Recognizing Signs of Zinc Deficiency 

Zinc deficiency can manifest through various skin and hair symptoms, which can dramatically improve with zinc supplementation. Adults might experience similar symptoms under conditions of low zinc intake or due to certain diseases that increase zinc demand. The signs can be subtle yet impactful, affecting everything from your mood to your immune system. Here are some symptoms to watch out for: 

  • Depression: Low mood and motivation can be linked to insufficient zinc levels, possibly due to increase in cortisol associated with deficiencies in zinc. 
  • Digestive Issues: Experiencing diarrhea or gastrointestinal discomfort may be a sign. 
  • Listlessness and Irritability: Feeling unusually tired or irritable can indicate a deficiency. 
  • Sleep Disturbances: Poor sleep quality might also be a symptom of low zinc levels. 
  • Poor Wound Healing and Increased Infections: Zinc is crucial for skin integrity and immune function, which means deficiency may lead to slow wound healing and a higher risk of infections like candida and staph. 
  • Classic Rash: A well-demarcated, red, scaly rash around the mouth, hands, feet, and genital areas, typically sparing the upper lip. 
  • Perinekia: Inflammation around the nails. 
  • Hair Loss: Zinc deficiency can trigger a type of hair loss known as telogen effluvium, characterized by excessive shedding due to the body conserving resources. 
  • Hypogonadism: Where the testicles atrophy, resulting in lowered testosterone levels.  
  • Atrophy of the Thymus Gland: which is essential for producing T cells that support the immune system.  
  • Unusual Stool: The pancreas is notably susceptible to zinc deficiency. Symptoms affecting this organ may manifest as foul-smelling stool that floats, accompanied by cramping, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and bloating. These indicators can often be overlooked or misattributed to diet but may indeed signal a zinc shortage. 

In children, zinc deficiency is particularly concerning as it can lead to poor growth and delayed sexual maturation. 

Causes of Zinc Deficiency 

Zinc deficiency can be either hereditary or acquired.  

  • Genetics: Hereditary zinc deficiency, known as acrodermatitis enteropathica, is due to gene mutations affecting zinc absorption.  
  • Medical Conditions: certain medical conditions like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.  
  • Gastric bypass surgery 
  • Alcohol Dependence: Acquired deficiency can be seen in individuals with alcohol dependence. 
  • Highly Restrictive Diets 
  • Phytic acid: which is prevalent in grains and cereals, can inhibit zinc absorption, leading to deficiency. This is particularly problematic in children who consume cereal-heavy diets without adequate alternative sources, resulting in conditions like chronic diarrhea.  

Sources of Zinc & Daily Recommended Intake  

Zinc can be found abundantly in animal products and seafood—oysters, for instance, are particularly rich in zinc. Plant-based sources like legumes, nuts, and whole grains also provide good amounts of this essential mineral. Here’s a quick guide to some top zinc sources: 

  1. Meat
  • Beef (cooked, lean): 7 mg of zinc per 3 oz 
  • Lamb (cooked): 6.7 mg of zinc per 3 oz 
  • Pork (cooked, lean): 2.9 mg of zinc per 3 oz 
  1. Seafood
  • Oysters: 74 mg of zinc per 3 oz (cooked) 
  • Crab (cooked): 6.5 mg of zinc per 3 oz 
  • Lobster (cooked): 3.4 mg of zinc per 3 oz 
  1. Legumes
  • Cooked lentils: 2.5 mg of zinc per cup 
  • Cooked chickpeas: 2.5 mg of zinc per cup 
  • Cooked beans (e.g., black, kidney): around 1.8 mg of zinc per cup 
  1. Nuts and Seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds (roasted): 2.9 mg of zinc per ounce 
  • Cashews (roasted): 1.6 mg of zinc per ounce 
  • Almonds: 0.9 mg of zinc per ounce 
  1. Dairy
  • Milk: 1 mg of zinc per cup 
  • Cheese (cheddar): 3.1 mg of zinc per 3 oz 
  • Yogurt: 1.3 mg of zinc per cup 
  1. Whole Grains
  • Oats (cooked): 2.3 mg of zinc per cup 
  • Quinoa (cooked): 2 mg of zinc per cup 
  • Brown rice (cooked): 1.2 mg of zinc per cup 
  1. Eggs
  • Whole egg: 0.6 mg of zinc per large egg 
  1. Dark Chocolate
  • 70-85% cocoa: around 2.3 mg of zinc per 3.5 oz 

The recommended daily amount (RDA) of zinc according to the National Academy of Medicine: 

  • Infants
  • 0-6 months: 2 mg 
  • 7-12 months: 3 mg 
  • Children
  • 1-3 years: 3 mg 
  • 4-8 years: 5 mg 
  • 9-13 years: 8 mg 
  • Teens and Adults
  • Males 14 and older: 11 mg 
  • Females 14-18 years: 9 mg 
  • Females 19 and older: 8 mg 
  • Pregnant and Breastfeeding Women
  • Pregnant: 11-12 mg 
  • Breastfeeding: 12-13 mg 

Diagnosing & Treating Zinc Deficiency 

Detecting a zinc deficiency involves careful observation of symptoms and is usually confirmed through lab tests. For most people, a well-rounded diet suffices in preventing deficiency. However, for those at risk or diagnosed with a deficiency, supplements might be necessary, albeit with careful monitoring to avoid potential side effects such as digestive upset or mineral imbalances. 

Be sure to always take zinc supplements with a meal. If you take it on an empty stomach, it often causes severe nausea and abdominal pain.  

Embrace the Power of Zinc! 

By exploring the wonders of zinc, you’re taking an important step toward enhancing your health and vitality. Ready to boost your wellbeing with this mighty mineral? Start today by incorporating zinc-rich foods into your diet and experience the difference it makes in your overall health and mood! 

Curious about zinc or other health topics? Consider discussing your health needs with a professional at Northwest Integrative Medicine, where we blend traditional and holistic approaches to ensure your well-being. Let’s embrace the power of zinc together and keep our bodies thriving through every season! 

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