Zinc is a mineral that can be found in different foods and supplements, and it plays an important role in our health. But have you ever wondered what causes zinc deficiency and what its consequences may be?
Keep reading to learn more about low zinc levels, its causes, signs, and how to avoid this problem.
Functions of zinc
Zinc is a trace mineral, which means that the human body only needs very small amounts of it in order to function properly. But that doesn’t mean that zinc is unimportant: according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, at least 100 enzymes need zinc to carry out their functions. Zinc is involved in processes that include:
- DNA creation
- Building proteins
- Cell growth
- Immune function
- Tissue repair
- Taste and smell
Zinc is especially important during periods of fast growth, such as childhood, adolescence, and pregnancy. According to MedlinePlus, zinc is the second most prevalent trace mineral in the human body, after iron.
Causes of zinc deficiency
Zinc deficiency can be congenital or acquired. Congenital zinc deficiencies are typically more severe, while acquired deficiency is usually milder and affects adult patients.
According to the MSD Manuals, causes of acquired zinc deficiency include:
- A diet too high in fiber and phytates
- Taking diuretics
- Chronic diseases, such as diabetes, sickle cell anemia, malabsorption, alcohol abuse, chronic kidney disease, and liver disease, among others
- A recent acute, stressful condition, such as sepsis or burns
- Older patients who are institutionalized or homebound
Low zinc levels symptoms
The effects of low zinc levels can be very subtle, and they can go unnoticed for some time. According to BMJ Best Practice, signs and symptoms of zinc deficiency can include:
- Slow wound healing
- Loss of appetite
- Impaired sense of taste
- Hair loss
- Vision problems
- Weight loss
- Frequent infections
- Difficulty concentrating
- Low alertness
- Fertility problems
Best source of zinc
Your zinc requirements will vary depending on your age, sex, diet, and stage of life. Healthy adults need approximately 11mg per day for men, and 8mg for women. As with many other micronutrients, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding have slightly higher requirements. Vegetarians or vegans may also need higher amounts of zinc, since certain compounds found in legumes, vegetables, and cereals can reduce zinc absorption.
According to the National Institutes of Health, the highest sources of zinc include:
- Red meat
- Fortified cereals
- Whole grains
- Dairy products
Additionally, most multivitamin supplements contain some zinc. You’re not recommended to take supplements that exceed your recommended dietary allowance. Taking too much zinc can also lead to certain health problems, such as copper deficiency and neurological symptoms.
At-home zinc test
A DYI home test for zinc deficiency has become popular online. In this test, you’re meant to hold a teaspoon of a liquid zinc supplement in your mouth for up to 30 seconds. If you perceive a bitter taste, this is meant to indicate normal zinc levels. If, on the contrary, you don’t taste anything, it means that you have zinc deficiency.
However, it’s very important to keep in mind that DIY tests can be very unreliable. If you suspect that you have low zinc levels, it’s a much better idea to seek medical assistance so you can get the correct tests for diagnosis.
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Zinc - hsph.harvard.edu
Zinc in diet - medlineplus.gov
Zinc Deficiency - msdmanuals.com
Zinc deficiency - bestpractice.bmj.com
Zinc - ods.od.nih.gov