Importance of zinc

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About a year after I had my third child, I noticed many white spots forming on my fingernails. They would grow out but new ones always appeared. I suspected that this was due to a zinc deficiency that was probably caused by my three pregnancies and breastfeeding. I tried to include foods rich in zinc in my diet such as more whole grains, nuts, pumpkin seeds, fish and poultry. After some time my hair started to fall out more than usual and I developed chronically dry hands that no hand cream could fix. At this point I decided to supplement with zinc which seemed to solve these problems quite rapidly. I was taking a zinc supplement for about six months and stopped after I saw a significant improvement in my condition. I thought that I would just pay attention to include more zinc in my meals but without the zinc supplementation all the symptoms came back again. I ate mostly plant based diet, I included some chicken and fish every once in a while but it didn't seem to be enough. Every individual is different but in my case my body is probably not able to absorb enough zinc from the plant based foods. So I supplemented for a while but started to include more organic poultry, fish and grass fed beef.

Zinc deficiency is actually quite common as it is becoming less available in our soil due to modern agriculture and as a result of food processing. Zinc has so many important functions and its deficiency or depletion can cause many different symptoms. Zinc is probably involved in more body functions than any other mineral.

Functions

  • it improves wound healing and may help with collagen formation
  • it helps the liver detoxify alcohols
  • it helps utilize and maintain body levels of vitamin A which keeps the skin healthy
  • it is needed for energy production
  • it is needed for strong bones and teeth
  • it is important to male sex organ function
  • it is important for eye health, liver and muscle tissues
  • it also supports immune function
  • it may have anti-inflammatory function as well

Symptoms of zinc deficiency

  • poor appetite and slow development in children as well as learning disabilities, poor attention span and in later years acne and decreased sexual development
  • increased susceptibility to infection
  • fatigue
  • hair loss or thinning
  • dermatitis
  • skin rashes, dry skin, delayed healing of skin wounds
  • poor appetite and poor digestion
  • brittleness of the nails or white spots on the nails
  • menstrual problems
  • loss of taste sensation
  • prostate problems
  • lower sperm count
  • decreased testosterone levels

Factors related to zinc deficiency

  • diet
  • aging
  • pregnancy
  • growth periods
  • birth control pills
  • PMS
  • fasting or starvation
  • serious illness, chronic disease or injury
  • stress
  • burns, psoriasis
  • infections
  • athletics
  • increased copper intake

Zinc absorption may vary from about 12% to 59% of ingested zinc. Zinc from animal foods has been shown to be better absorbed. Zinc is found in the body in small amounts, only about 2.0 to 2.5 grams total. It is stored in skeletal muscle and bone, it is also concentrated in the prostate and semen, in the heart, spleen, lungs, brain, adrenal glands, retina of the eye and in the skin, nails and hair.

Recommended daily amounts for zinc

Males 19 years and older - 11 mg

Females 19 years and older - 8 mg

Because absorption is about 30% to 40%, we need to get  4 - 6 mg of zinc per day.

Sources of zinc

  • most animal foods contain adequate amounts of zinc (fish and poultry contain fair zinc levels, red meat and liver are fairly high, oysters are very high)
  • whole grains (whole wheat, rye and oats) are rich in zinc
  • nuts (pecans and Brazil nuts contain the highest zinc levels)
  • pumpkin seeds
  • ginger root
  • lentils
  • garbanzo beans
  • mustard
  • chili powder
  • black pepper
  • peas, carrots, beets and cabbage contain some zinc (in general fruits and vegetables are not good sources of zinc)

Supplementation

General supplement formulas often include 15 - 30 mg of zinc. The amino acid-chelated zinc is probably the best tolerated and absorbed. I took a different kind before and was getting quite nauseous.

If you suspect to have a zinc deficiency, it is probably wise to speak to your doctor and get a blood test before supplementing with zinc. I skipped this step as I just wanted to see if my symptoms improve with the supplementation. But it is quite a complex problem that should be consulted with a doctor as zinc may interfere with copper absorption so you may need to supplement with copper as well. It is also recommended to supplement with vitamin A to balance the effect of extra zinc.

At this point, I don't supplement with zinc anymore as it seems that eating more chicken, fish and beef does the trick.

A whole food, unprocessed, well balanced meals are always the best option for anyone!

Source: Staying Healthy with Nutrition by Elson M. Haas, MD with Buck Levin, PhD, RD