What Is Zinc Deficiency? | Nutrition

Zinc deficiency

Overview of zinc deficiency

Zinc is a mineral that your body uses for fighting off infections and producing cells. It’s important for healing injuries and creating DNA, the genetic blueprint in all of your cells. If you’re not getting enough zinc in your diet, you may have side effects such as hair loss, lack of alertness, and a reduced sense of taste and smell. Zinc deficiency is rare in the United States, but it still occurs in some people.

Symptoms of zinc deficiency

Zinc is used by your body in cell production and immune functions. There is still a lot more to learn about zinc, but we do know that zinc is an essential part of growth, sexual development, and reproduction.

When you’re zinc deficient, your body can’t produce healthy, new cells. This leads to symptoms such as:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Wounds that won’t heal
  • Lack of alertness
  • Decreased sense of smell and taste
  • Diarrhoea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Open sores on the skin

Causes of zinc deficiency

Worldwide, about 1.1 billion people are deficient in zinc due to inadequate dietary intakes. However, there are three main causes of an underlying zinc deficiency:

  • Not getting enough zinc through diet
  • Losing excessive amounts of zinc from the body, for example, due to poor absorption
  • People with chronic diseases

People with the following chronic conditions may experience zinc deficiency:

  • Alcohol addiction
  • Cancer
  • Celiac disease
  • Chronic diarrhoea
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Chronic liver disease
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Diabetes
  • Pancreatic disease
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Ulcerative colitis

Vegetarians traditionally have lower levels of zinc because the body breaks down the zinc found in meats more efficiently.

Vegetarians tend to eat higher levels of legumes, soybeans, beans, nuts, and whole-grain food products. While they are healthful food choices, they can impair the body’s ability to absorb zinc due to the presence of phytates. These substances bind to zinc, so the body cannot absorb it.

Risk factors

  • Improper diet
  • Gastrointestinal diseases including ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, short bowel syndrome, and chronic diarrhoea.
  • Chronic liver disease
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Sickle-cell anaemia
  • Pregnancy and breastfeeding
  • Vegetarian diet
  • People taking large amounts of iron supplements (iron can interfere with zinc absorption).

Diagnosis of zinc deficiency

Zinc is distributed in trace amounts among the cells in your body, making it difficult to detect zinc deficiency through a simple blood test.

If your doctor suspects a zinc deficiency, they will need to test your blood plasma for an accurate reading. Other tests for zinc deficiency include a urine test and an analysis of a strand of your hair to measure the zinc content.

Sometimes zinc deficiency is a symptom of another condition. For example, some conditions may cause zinc to be processed in your body but not absorbed well. Zinc deficiency can also lead to copper deficiency. Your doctor will be aware of these possibilities. They may do additional testing to get to the root of your deficiency.

Treatment for zinc deficiency

You may need to increase your zinc intake by getting more zinc in your diet. However, dietary supplements are needed.

The recommended daily intake for zinc was developed by the Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. Recommendations are given by age.

The daily recommendations for zinc intake are:

  • Children 0 to 6 months: 2 mg
  • Children 7 to 12 months: 3 mg
  • Children 1 to 3 years: 3 mg
  • Children 4 to 8 years: 5 mg
  • Children 9 to 13 years: 8 mg

Adults and children 14 years and older: 11 mg for men and 9 mg for women

Pregnant women should consume 12 mg of zinc daily and women who are breastfeeding should consume 13 mg of the mineral daily.

Oysters contain a particularly high concentration of zinc per serving. Just three ounces of oysters provide 74 mg of zinc, which is substantially more than an adult need’s to consume per day.

Side effects

There are several forms of zinc supplements, containing different dosages and forms of zinc. But some zinc additions can have side effects for some people. Many people have no side effects. Likely side effects can include:

  • An unpleasant taste
  • Headaches
  • Stomach ache
  • Feeling sick (nausea) or vomiting

Never take more than the optional amount, due to the risks of excess zinc, as described above.

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