Zinc Deficiency – Symptoms, Diagnosis, And Treatment


What is Zinc?
Zinc is an essential trace mineral that we need to stay healthy. Of the trace minerals, zinc is second only to iron in its concentration in the body. Trace mineral means a metal that is needed in small amounts.

What is the function of Zinc?
Zinc is found in cells throughout the body. Our body needs zinc for the proper working of our immune system to fight infections. It also plays a critical role in cell division, cell growth, wound healing, and the breakdown of carbohydrates.

Zinc is also needed for the senses of smell and taste. During pregnancy, infancy, and childhood the body needs zinc to grow and develop properly. Zinc also enhances the action of insulin.

What is zinc deficiency?
You are zinc deficient if your body doesn’t have an adequate amount of zinc.

What are the causes of zinc deficiency?
A diet deficient in zinc can cause zinc deficiency. A diet high in phytate-containing whole grains, foods grown in zinc-deficient soil, or processed foods containing little or no zinc.

Gastrointestinal surgery and digestive disorders, such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and short bowel syndrome can decrease zinc absorption. They also increase endogenous zinc losses from the gastrointestinal tract and, to a lesser extent, from the kidney. Other diseases associated with zinc deficiency include malabsorption syndrome, chronic liver disease, chronic renal disease, sickle cell disease, diabetes, malignancy, and other chronic illnesses. Chronic diarrhea also leads to excessive loss of zinc.

Vegetarians typically eat high levels of legumes and whole grains, which contain phytates that bind zinc and inhibit its absorption. Fruits and vegetables are not good sources, because the zinc in plant proteins is not as available for use by the body as the zinc from animal proteins. Therefore, low-protein diets and vegetarian diets tend to be low in zinc.

Alcoholics tend to have low zinc status because ethanol consumption decreases intestinal absorption of zinc and increases urinary zinc excretion. Besides, the variety and amount of food consumed by many alcoholics are limited, leading to inadequate zinc intake.

What are the symptoms of zinc deficiency?
The following symptoms may occur due to zinc deficiency:

  • Loss of hair
  • Poor appetite
  • Problems with the sense of taste
  • Problems with the sense of smell
  • Skin sores
  • Slow growth
  • Wounds that take a long time to heal
  • Frequent infections
  • Hypogonadism in males
  • Trouble seeing in the dark

How much zinc does our body need each day?
The amount of zinc our body needs each day depends on the age of a person. Average daily recommended amounts for different ages are listed below in milligrams (mg):

Children and infants

  • 7 to 12 months: 3.0 mg/day
  • 1 to 3 years: 3 mg/day
  • 4 to 8 years: 5 mg/day
  • 9 to 13 years: 8 mg/day

Adolescents and Adults

  • Males, age 14 and over: 11 mg/day
  • Females, age 14 to 18: 9 mg/day
  • Females, age 19 and over: 8 mg/day
  • Pregnant females, age 19 and over: 11 mg/day
  • Lactating females, age 19 and over: 12 mg/day

What are the food sources of Zinc?
Zinc is found in a variety of foods. Animal proteins are an excellent source of zinc. Beef, pork, and lamb contain more zinc than fish. The dark meat of a chicken has more zinc than the light meat.

Nuts, whole grains, legumes, and yeast are the other good sources of zinc.

Most multivitamin and mineral supplements contain zinc. These supplements contain zinc in the form of zinc gluconate, zinc sulfate, or zinc acetate.

Zinc is also found in some over-the-counter medicines, such as cold lozenges, nasal sprays, and nasal gels.

How is zinc deficiency diagnosed?
Doctors usually order a blood test or urine test to check zinc levels. These tests may not give a definitive result because zinc is only present in small amounts in the body’s cells.

To diagnose a zinc deficiency, a doctor will need to take a full health history. The doctor will ask questions about your dietary intake. If you don’t eat enough of a variety of foods, it is possible a zinc deficiency could be an underlying cause.

How is zinc deficiency treated?
Usually, a doctor recommends zinc supplements to treat zinc deficiency. Zinc supplements are available at most pharmacies and health stores. Supplements can contain different amounts of elemental zinc (the weight of the actual zinc molecule) and are labeled as zinc gluconate, zinc sulfate, or zinc acetate.

All supplements provide information about how much elemental zinc is available in each type. Zinc is also a standard component of throat lozenges, as zinc is thought to help treat the common cold.

The doctor may also recommend increasing intake of zinc-containing foods.

This feature is for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute the expert guidance of a doctor. We advise seeing a doctor if you have any health concerns.

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