Zinc Requirement

Zinc Requirement: Overview

Zinc is a little different from some of the other well-known minerals.  Whilst some of these have a well-known, identifiable function familiar to us, such as calcium for bone strength and iron for healthy red blood cells, zinc has no single clear action but instead performs a number of important functions in the body.  This is because zinc is an essential component of around 200 enzymes that are involved in a range of actions within the body. Zinc is needed for a healthy immune system as it is involved with immune cell (T-cell) production in the thymus gland.  Along with copper and manganese, zinc is a precursor of the antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase (SOD).  Zinc is needed for protein synthesis and is important in wound healing and growth.  It plays an important role in the repair and renewal of skin cells.

Zinc is an essential trace element.  It is one of the most important of the trace elements needed by the body.  Of the many hundreds of protein enzymes present in the body, which allow its chemistry to work, zinc is required by over two hundred of them.  It can thus be seen how a deficiency of zinc can affect so many different functions.

Zinc is also important in the production of prostaglandins (PGs).  PGs are vital to numerous body functions including, for example: the function of the immune system; the expression and control of inflammation; skin and wound healing; function of the heart and cardiovascular system; absorption of various minerals; body temperature control and the important functions of fertility, conception, and delivery of the infant.  The way in which zinc influences PG production is by potentiating (or supporting the function of) the enzymes which permit the conversion of the polyunsaturated fatty acids into PGs.  Zinc thus has a very direct action in stimulating the normal production of PGs thereby maintaining or restoring normal health and fitness.

Incidence; Causes and Development

Zinc deficiency occurs more frequently than is commonly recognized.  It tends to occur in the elderly, when zinc intake is inadequate, when there are increased losses of zinc from the body, when copper exposure is high, or when the body's requirement for zinc increases.

Gastrointestinal malabsorption can lead to deficiency.

Signs and Symptoms

There is no specific disease associated with zinc deficiency, but many general signs and symptoms can point to it.  As body stores of zinc decline, symptoms worsen and new ones appear.

Symptoms of deficiency include:
  • mild anemia
  • glossitis
  • angular stomatitis
  • diverse forms of skin lesions, including eczema, psoriasis, acne
  • night blindness (poor night vision), associated with an inability to mobilize retinol from the liver, may also be caused by zinc deficiency
  • photophobia (sensitivity to light)
  • hang nails
  • inflammation of nail cuticles
  • white spots on fingernails, transverse lines and poor nail growth
  • sleep and behavioral disturbances
  • psychiatric illness
  • all types of inflammatory bowel disease
  • impaired glucose tolerance
  • dandruff
  • arthritis
  • alcoholism
  • loss of appetite
  • growth retardation
  • diarrhoea
  • tremor
  • hair loss
  • dry skin rash
  • increased allergic sensitivity
  • disturbance of menstrual periods, pre-menstrual syndrome
  • delayed wound healing
  • loss of taste or smell sensation
  • dyslexia
  • depression
  • sleep disturbance
  • hyperactivity
  • reduced fertility
  • loss of sex drive
  • pre-eclampsia (toxaemia) of pregnancy and post-natal depression
A diet marginally lacking in zinc can lead to problems such as:
  • frequent infections
  • delayed wound healing
  • reduced appetite
  • decreased sense of taste and smell (sometimes also associated with low iron levels)
  • poor skin condition
  • white flecks on the nails
A very severe zinc deficiency will lead to stunted growth (as related to protein metabolism) and delayed/poor sexual development.  Such drastically low levels of zinc are not generally seen in Western countries, but some groups – particularly young women between 16 and 24 – do often have lower than desirable intakes.

Some 25% of people who have an impairment in taste and or smell are suffering from an outright zinc deficiency.

Another common condition that can develop is Acrodermatitis Enteropathica, an autosomal recessive disease that is characterized by zinc malabsorption.  This results in eczematoid skin lesions, alopecia, diarrhea, and concurrent bacterial and yeast infections.

It has been observed that those suffering with any of the auto-immune diseases (such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis or psoriasis); atopic problems (allergy, eczema, asthma or migraine); or many of the inflammatory diseases (such as osteo-arthritis, ME or irritable bowel syndrome), have a consistent, and often severe, zinc deficiency, which is greatly benefited by a programme of zinc replacement therapy.  Zinc supplements in MS will increase both energy and vitality, increase muscle strength, improve sleep and prevent fatigue.  Perhaps in company with vanadium, another common mineral deficiency in MS, which contributes to the occurrence of depression, it will also prevent this distressing symptom.

Diagnosis and Tests

Medical doctors who suspect a zinc deficiency will consider risk factors such as inadequate caloric intake, alcoholism, digestive diseases, and symptoms such as impaired growth in infants and children when determining a need for zinc supplementation.

Treatment and Prevention

Even a marginal deficiency should not be left untreated.

Men have a high concentration of zinc in their prostate gland, and many anecdotal reports indicate that benign enlargement of the prostate gland – causing increased frequency of urination in middle aged men – can be improved by consuming extra zinc.

Zinc is commonly taken as a supplement to help with skin conditions such as acne or eczema.  The basis of zinc therapy lies in the fact that the mineral is necessary for normal cell division, tissue repair and renewal.  Zinc is also needed for the conversion of essential fatty acids into compounds that help regulate skin condition.

Complications

Studies at Reading University (UK) have shown that zinc deficiency contributes to the slimming disease anorexia nervosa by impairing the sense of taste and smell, and therefore the desire to eat.  Pioneering work at the university has used zinc as part of the treatment programmes for anorexia nervosa victims.

Zinc is also important for reproductive health.  Low zinc levels may result in reduced sperm count, and pregnant women with low blood levels of zinc may give birth to smaller babies.  Poor growth in the first few months of life has been associated with reduced levels of zinc in breast milk.

Zinc Need

Information On This Page

Signs, symptoms & indicators of Zinc Requirement:

Other Diagnostic Tests

Zinc test tasteless is a sign or symptom of Zinc RequirementZinc test metallic/fuzzy/sweet or zinc test tasteless
The oral zinc test has proven to be a useful indicator of body reserves of zinc.  Many doctors are doing this test in their offices now in place of a serum zinc test or along with other testing methods.
Counter-indicators:
Zinc test slowly objectionable strongly contraindicates Zinc RequirementZinc test rapidly/zinc test slowly objectionable
The oral zinc test has proven to be a useful indicator of body reserves of zinc.  Many doctors are doing this test in their offices now in place of a serum zinc test or along with other testing methods.

Symptoms - Food - General

Symptoms - Hair

Symptoms - Head - Mouth/Oral

(Much) reduced sense of taste is often a sign or symptom of Zinc Requirement(Much) reduced sense of taste
Zinc deficiency can present itself as a reduced or distorted sense of taste.
Abnormal taste in mouth is often a sign or symptom of Zinc RequirementAbnormal taste in mouth
Sensations of unpleasant tastes are one symptom of zinc deficiency.

Symptoms - Head - Nose

(Much) reduced sense of smell is often a sign or symptom of Zinc Requirement(Much) reduced sense of smell
Zinc deficiency is rare in the developed world, but it can cause impaired sense of smell or taste.
Unpleasant smell sensations is often a sign or symptom of Zinc RequirementUnpleasant smell sensations
Sensations of unpleasant smells are a symptom of zinc deficiency.

Symptoms - Nails

(Very) deformed toenails is often a sign or symptom of Zinc Requirement(Very) deformed toenails
Distorted nails are a common symptom of zinc deficiency.
(A few/many) white spots on fingernails is often a sign or symptom of Zinc Requirement(A few/many) white spots on fingernails
Spots on the nails indicate injury to the nail bed that was not repaired successfully by the body.  This may indicate an underlying zinc deficiency because zinc is crucial to successful wound healing.

Symptoms - Reproductive - General

Symptoms - Skin - Conditions

Having polyps is often a sign or symptom of Zinc RequirementHaving polyps
Nasal polyps are considered one of the deficiency symptoms of zinc.

Symptoms - Skin - General

Darker/redder skin color may be a sign or symptom of Zinc RequirementDarker/redder skin color
Darkening of the skin all over the body is a symptom of zinc deficiency.

Symptoms - Sleep

Conditions that suggest Zinc Requirement:

Circulation

Poor/Slow Wound Healing often suggests Zinc RequirementPoor/Slow Wound Healing
Many studies have demonstrated enhanced wound and ulcer healing with oral zinc supplementation.  The healing time of surgical wounds was reduced by 43% with zinc sulfate at 50mg tid.  Not surprisingly, zinc deficiency is also associated with impaired wound healing.  A study of patients deficient in zinc found that topically applied zinc oxide, but not zinc sulfate, enhanced the regeneration of epithelial tissue on leg ulcers.  In addition, inflammation and bacterial growth were both reduced.

1.  What is the use of zinc for wound healing? Int J Dermatol 1978;17: pp.568-70
2.  Acceleration of healing with zinc sulfate.  Ann Surg 1967;165: pp.432-6
3.  Studies on zinc in wound healing.  Acta Derm Venereol Suppl 1990;154: pp.1-36

Hormones

Low Male Testosterone Level often suggests Zinc RequirementLow Male Testosterone Level
(This relationship of testosterone levels to zinc status does not apply to women.)

Studies support the use of zinc supplementation in the treatment of low sperm count especially in the presence of low testosterone levels.  Both sperm count and testosterone levels rose in men with initially low testosterone levels.  Zinc status should be evaluated in men with decreased serum testosterone levels.  [Nutrition Report, September-October, 1996;14(7): p.52]

Immunity

Weakened Immune System often suggests Zinc RequirementWeakened Immune System
Zinc deficiency weakens the immune system.

Infections

Canker Sores (Aphthous Ulcers) may suggest Zinc RequirementCanker Sores (Aphthous Ulcers)
Tissue damaged by canker sores has demonstrated an enhanced recovery rate with adequate zinc intake.  Total prevention or reduced frequency also occurs when zinc is supplemented in those with zinc deficiency.

Mental

Metabolic

Tinnitus often suggests Zinc RequirementTinnitus
High concentrations of zinc are found in the inner ear.  A Japanese study tested the theory that insufficient levels of zinc may therefore contribute to tinnitus.  Researchers found that tinnitus sufferers with low zinc levels in their blood experienced an improvement in their symptoms when, after two weeks of zinc supplementation, their zinc levels rose significantly. 

Another study found that 25% of those with tinnitus and low serum zinc reported improvement after 3 to 6 months of supplementation.  [ Am J Otol 1985;6: pp.116-7]

Nutrients

Vitamin A Requirement may suggest Zinc RequirementVitamin A Requirement
A deficiency of protein or zinc can reduce the amount of vitamin A released from the liver.
Iodine Requirement may suggest Zinc RequirementIodine Requirement
Low zinc intakes exacerbate the effect of low iodine intake.

Organ Health

Night Blindness often suggests Zinc RequirementNight Blindness
Zinc is required in order to transport vitamin A from the liver to the retina and thus zinc supplementation, especially in those who are deficient, should help improve night vision.

Reproductive

Male Infertility (Low Sperm Count) often suggests Zinc RequirementMale Infertility (Low Sperm Count)
Zinc increases sperm count and motility as well as raising testosterone levels when low.

Skin-Hair-Nails

Male Hair Loss often suggests Zinc RequirementMale Hair Loss
Mineral metabolism of 19 patients with hair loss was examined.  Twelve of those patients had problems with their zinc metabolism.  Specific nutritional and mineral therapy resulted in improved hair growth after 2-3 months of treatment.  [Blaurock-Busch, E.  Wichtige Nahrstoffe fur Gesunde Haut und Haare, Kosmetik Internat.  3/87]
Female Hair Loss often suggests Zinc RequirementFemale Hair Loss
Mineral metabolism of 19 patients with hair loss was examined.  Twelve of those patients had problems with their zinc metabolism.  Specific nutritional and mineral therapy resulted in improved hair growth after 2-3 months of treatment.  [Blaurock-Busch, E.  Wichtige Nahrstoffe fur Gesunde Haut und Haare, Kosmetik Internat.  3/87]

Tumors, Malignant

Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL) often suggests Zinc RequirementAcute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL)
It was found that the copper to zinc ratio was significantly higher in patients with lymphoma or acute and chronic leukemias compared to control subjects.  A person at increased risk of one of these cancers should check blood levels of copper and zinc to rule out abnormalities and make adjustments accordingly.  Since zinc and copper are antagonistic, and zinc deficiency is relatively common, supplemental zinc is often used to improve this ratio.  Zinc helps block the absorption of copper and acts to remove accumulated copper from the body as well as prevent its accumulation.  [Rev.  Invest.  Clin, Nov-Dec.  1995;47(6): pp.447-52]

Risk factors for Zinc Requirement:

Addictions

Alcohol-related Problems often increases risk of Zinc RequirementAlcohol-related Problems
Zinc deficiency is frequently associated with alcoholism, due to a lower intake of food.

Diet

Vegan Diet Consequences often increases risk of Zinc RequirementVegan Diet Consequences
Vegetarians who consume a variety of legumes and nuts will probably meet their zinc requirement, but otherwise a vegetarian diet may be inadequate in zinc.  Since the zinc from plant sources is absorbed less readily, this increases the concern about zinc status in vegetarians who do not consume legumes and nuts.
Vegetarian Diet Consequences often increases risk of Zinc RequirementVegetarian Diet Consequences
See link between Vegan Diet and Zinc Deficiency.

Digestion

Diarrhea often increases risk of Zinc RequirementDiarrhea
Diarrhea causes a loss of zinc and therefore digestive diseases or gastrointestinal surgery that result in diarrhea are often associated with a deficiency.
Atrophic Gastritis often increases risk of Zinc RequirementAtrophic Gastritis
Those with atrophic gastritis, vagotomy or gastric resection may be at increased risk for zinc deficiency.

Mental

Stress often increases risk of Zinc RequirementStress
Levels of zinc and other trace minerals were determined in 66 men before and after a five-day period of sustained physical and psychological stress.  Zinc levels decreased by 33% on average.

Metabolic

Pyroluria often increases risk of Zinc RequirementPyroluria
Pyroluria is caused by an overproduction of kryptopyrrole during hemoglobin synthesis, which chemically combines with vitamin B6 and zinc, resulting in their excretion and a deficiency of both of these essential nutrients.

Musculo-Skeletal

Rheumatoid Arthritis may increase risk of Zinc RequirementRheumatoid Arthritis
There is a possibility that zinc malabsorption may contribute to low zinc levels amongst rheumatoid arthritics.  [J Rheumatol.  1997;24(4): pp.643-646] While levels of zinc have been found to be lower than normal in the blood of patients with rheumatoid arthritis, supplementation does not appear to be beneficial to the condition.

Reproductive

Motherhood Issues may increase risk of Zinc RequirementMotherhood Issues
If zinc intake is chronically low, breastfeeding further increases the risk of zinc deficiency in the mother due to the greater need for zinc during lactation.

Supplements and Medications

(Past) H2-blocker antacid use often increases risk of Zinc Requirement(Past) H2-blocker antacid use
By reducing stomach acid levels, H2 blockers might interfere with the absorption of iron, zinc and perhaps other minerals.  Gastric acid secretion plays an important role in the regulation of zinc absorption in men.  Drugs that keep stomach pH values of 3 or greater for at least 24 hours may predispose individuals to zinc deficiency.
PPI antacid use may increase risk of Zinc RequirementPPI antacid use
Gastric acid secretion plays an important role in the regulation of zinc absorption in men.  Drugs that keep stomach pH values of 3 or greater for at least 24 hours may predispose individuals to zinc deficiency.
Counter-indicators:

Symptoms - Food - Beverages

(High) coffee consumption may increase risk of Zinc Requirement(High) coffee consumption
Research has shown that drinking coffee causes a significant loss of several vitamins and minerals, including vitamins B and C, calcium, iron, and zinc.

Symptoms - Food - Intake

Occasional/frequent soy consumption may increase risk of Zinc RequirementOccasional/frequent soy consumption
Soybeans have the highest levels of phytic acid of any legume, and as such have an extraordinary ability to cause mineral deficiencies.  Soy chelates zinc from our bodies.

Symptoms - Nails

History of deformed toenails may increase risk of Zinc RequirementHistory of deformed toenails
Distorted nails are a common symptom of zinc deficiency.

Symptoms - Reproductive - General

Symptoms - Skin - Conditions

History of adolescent acne often increases risk of Zinc RequirementHistory of adolescent acne
Adolescent males have been found to have lower zinc levels than any other age group.
History of polyps may increase risk of Zinc RequirementHistory of polyps
Nasal polyps are considered one of the deficiency symptoms of zinc.

Zinc Requirement suggests the following may be present:

Addictions

Zinc Requirement may suggest Alcohol-related ProblemsAlcohol-related Problems
Zinc deficiency is frequently associated with alcoholism, due to a lower intake of food.

Digestion

Zinc Requirement may suggest DiarrheaDiarrhea
Diarrhea causes a loss of zinc and therefore digestive diseases or gastrointestinal surgery that result in diarrhea are often associated with a deficiency.

Metabolic

Zinc Requirement may suggest PyroluriaPyroluria
Pyroluria is caused by an overproduction of kryptopyrrole during hemoglobin synthesis, which chemically combines with vitamin B6 and zinc, resulting in their excretion and a deficiency of both of these essential nutrients.

Nutrients

Recommendations for Zinc Requirement:

Diet

Caffeine/Coffee Avoidance often helps with Zinc RequirementCaffeine/Coffee Avoidance
Research has shown that drinking coffee causes a significant loss of several vitamins and minerals, including vitamins B and C, calcium, iron, and zinc.

Digestion

Lab Tests/Rule-Outs

Test Zinc Levels is highly recommended for Zinc RequirementTest Zinc Levels
The zinc taste test can be used to evaluate this common state of deficiency.

Mineral

Not recommended:
Copper is often not recommended for Zinc RequirementCopper
Because of copper's antagonism to zinc, copper should be avoided while restoring zinc levels.

KEY

Weak or unproven link: may be a sign or symptom of; may suggest; may increase risk of
Weak or unproven link:
may be a sign or symptom of; may suggest; may increase risk of
Strong or generally accepted link: is often a sign or symptom of; often suggests; often increases risk of
Strong or generally accepted link:
is often a sign or symptom of; often suggests; often increases risk of
Definite or direct link: is a sign or symptom of
Definite or direct link:
is a sign or symptom of
Strong counter-indication: often decreases risk of
Strong counter-indication:
often decreases risk of
Definitely or absolutely counter-indicates: strongly contraindicates; decreases risk of
Definitely or absolutely counter-indicates:
strongly contraindicates; decreases risk of
Moderately useful: often helps with
Moderately useful:
often helps with
Very useful: is highly recommended for
Very useful:
is highly recommended for
Often counterindicated: is often not recommended for
Often counterindicated:
is often not recommended for