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.
Needless to say, a deficiency in zinc – something approximately two billion people worldwide suffer from – is going to leave you feeling less than your best.
Keep reading to find out if you’re at risk of zinc deficiency, and discover what you can do about it.
Why Zinc is So Important?
Zinc is an essential mineral precisely because it’s needed 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
Concerned you might be zinc deficient? Here are some signs you should be watching out for:
1. Poor Immunity
If your levels of zinc are running low, 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’ – whereby cells that are no longer needed or are a threat to our health are programmed to die.
Zinc is also effective at preventing excess inflammation – something that is linked to a whole host of illnesses like asthma, allergies, heart disease, cancer, premature aging and more.
2. Impaired Sense of Taste and Smell
Notice that lately you can’t smell your prizewinning roses the way you once could? Or perhaps, your morning dark roast coffee suddenly tastes like instant?
Adequate bodily levels of zinc are required to produce an enzyme called carbonic anhydrase which is critical to taste and smell, meaning a loss of these important senses is one of the classic signs of chronic zinc deficiency.
3. 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. As a result, you may notice white flecks or lines appear on your nails, or they may be slow to grow or prone to splitting.
Make sure to check out these other warning signs your nails are sending you.
4. Skin Conditions
Pimples, cystic acne and even some skin rashes can all point to suboptimal zinc levels.
These conditions manifest because 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.
Research has found that men and women with serious acne have lower levels of serum zinc than blemish-free individuals.
Zinc also interacts with, and increases, Vitamin A (retinol) levels in the body – another nutrient that plays a huge role in healthy skin.
5. Poor Wound Healing
Delayed wound healing is another common sign that you need more zinc in your diet. Without this important co-factor, cells struggle to divide and grow as quickly 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.
6. 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.
Large-scale clinical research found that taking zinc and other important eye-vitamins daily can slow the progression of Age-Related Macular Degeneration (the leading cause of vision loss in the US) by 25% and visual acuity loss by 19% in those at high risk for the disease.
7. Poor Memory and Attention Span
This incredible nutrient also plays a pivotal role in supporting memory formation and cognitive stability as it regulates communications between neurons and the hippocampus to improve memory and learning capabilities.
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 improved attention span in participants.
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.
8. 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 should aim for 11 mg of zinc daily, 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 of Zinc
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, below are some of the best food sources of the mineral:
- Cooked oysters, 3 oz – 445% DV
- Rack of beef ribs – 258%
- Toasted wheat, 1 cup – 158%
- Cashews, 1 cup – 51%
- Lean pork, 3 oz – 28%
- Adzuki beans, 1 cup, cooked – 27%
- Pumpkin, squash and sesame seeds, 1 oz – 19%
- Dark cooking chocolate, 29g square – 19%
- Chickpeas, 1 cup, cooked – 17%
- Kidney beans, 1 cup, cooked – 12%
- Pine nuts, 1 oz – 12%
- Spinach, 1 cup cooked – 9%
Factors Affecting Zinc Absorption
Tea and coffee both hinder zinc absorption, as do foods and supplements rich in calcium and iron.
The bioavailability of zinc from vegetarian diets may be lower than from other diets as meat’s zinc content is more easily absorbed. 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 deficiencies seen in plant-based diets in impoverished nations are not associated with vegetarian diets in wealthier countries, like the US.
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.
The Best Zinc Supplements
There are a number of different types of zinc supplements – some of the most absorbable include zinc gluconate, zinc citrate, zinc acetate and zinc picolinate. This Pure Encapsulations Zinc Citrate is regarded as one of the best zinc supplements you can take. Below are four of the best-selling, most popular and most bioavailable zinc supplements.