Research conducted during the past 10-15 years suggests that zinc deficiency is widespread and affects the health and well-being of populations worldwide…the estimated global prevalence of zinc deficiency is 31%. – The World Health Organization
Zinc is one of those minerals that we don’t think too much about. Zinc is classified as an essential nutrient and serves many important roles in the human body. Such functions that zinc supports are: cellular metabolism, immune functioning, protein synthesis, wound healing, DNA synthesis and cellular division. Zinc also supports growth and development during pregnancy, childhood and adolescence; it is also needed for a normalized sense of taste and smell.
Something to be aware of is that deficient levels of zinc can manifest into physical and mental abnormalities. Shockingly, zinc deficiency is the 5th leading risk factor in causing disease worldwide – many of these cases originating in underdeveloped countries.
Being an essential mineral, zinc cannot be produced in the body. However, a variety of foods exist that can provide a good dose of zinc. We’ll list these food sources and the recommended daily intake of zinc later in the article.
Here are 5 signs that you may have a zinc deficiency:
1. Poor cognitive function
Supplementing zinc into our diet is important for optimal brain function. Researchers have discovered that zinc regulates communication between neurons and the hippocampus – improving memory and learning ability.
In one interesting study, scientists at Duke University Medical Center effectively eliminated zinc from the brains of mice. Researchers discovered that the absence of zinc inhibited communications between neurons and slowed the cognitive functioning of test subjects.
Neurons in the hippocampus are a particularly important area that requires sufficient amounts of zinc. This area of this brain plays important roles in the area of communication, as well.
If experiencing problems with learning, memory and/or communication, it may be due to diminished levels of zinc in the body. Having a case of “brain fog” may also be a telltale sign of zinc deficiency.
2. Thinning hair
Deficient levels of zinc in the body can manifest into hypothyroidism – a condition in which the thyroid is not producing sufficient amounts of thyroid hormones. This condition can often lead to thinning of the hair.
Not only have low levels of zinc been connected to increased likelihood of hypothyroidism, it is thought that normal functioning of the thyroid is essential for zinc absorption. In other words, zinc levels have a “cause and effect” impact on thyroid health, making it even more important to supplement zinc into our diets.
3. Immune system problems
According to a study published by Harvard Medical School, zinc is a trace element that is essential for cellular health. Zinc deficiency interferes with the ability of T cells and other immune system cells to function as they should.
Zinc is thought to aid other immune system functions as well, including:
– T-cell growth and differentiation
– White blood cell count and health
– Apoptosis functioning (killing off illness-causing viruses, bacteria and other foreign agents)
– Protective traits of cell membranes
– Gene transcription, an important phase of gene expression
Hormone receptors and proteins that contribute to a healthy functioning of the immune system also require adequate zinc supplementation.
Since low amounts of zinc in the body negatively affect the immune system, it can lead to other problems and promote infection. Persistent diarrhea is actually a major health concern, affecting approximately 2 million children in developing countries each year. Children that are part of this risk pool are also more likely to contract coli and other types of bacterial infections.
It is apparent that zinc supplementation is necessary to ward off infections and other immune system disorders. Health professionals recommend seeking advice from a physician before administering zinc to an infant less than six months old.
5. Food and environmental allergies
Deficient levels of zinc can cause histamine levels to increase. Zinc serves as a “storage unit” for histamine, so less zinc means less storage. The release of excess histamine can produce or exacerbate allergy symptoms. High levels of histamine also make one more susceptible to allergic reactions.
Recommended Zinc Amounts
0-6 months: 2 mg
7-12 months: 3 mg
1-3 years: 3 mg
4-8 years: 5 mg
9-13 years: 8 mg
14-18 years: 11 mg (male); 9 mg (female); 12 mg (pregnant); 13 mg (lactation)
19+ years: 11 mg (male); 8 mg (female); 11 mg (pregnant); 12 mg (lactation)
Good sources of zinc include beans, nuts, whole grains, and fortified breakfast cereals.