Do you have hair loss? Acne or skin issues? Weak nails? How about loss of appetite? Do you seem to get sick often? If you answered yes to one of more of these questions, you may be deficient in zinc!
What Causes Zinc Deficiency?
In general, zinc deficiency results from not consuming enough zinc, not properly absorbing the zinc you do take, experiencing increased losses of zinc from the body, or having increased requirements for zinc. Below are certain populations of people who may be at increased risk for zinc deficiency:
Zinc is generally available in lower amounts in plant food vs. animal food, and the availability of zinc from plant sources is lower than that from animal zinc absorption. In other words, less zinc is absorbed by your body when it comes from plant foods than when it comes from animal foods.
Pregnant and Lactating Women
Pregnant women, particularly those starting their pregnancy with low zinc status, are at increased risk of becoming zinc insufficient. This is due to increased requirements to cover the needs of both the mama and baby. Lactation can also deplete maternal zinc stores as some zinc is directed to breast milk. This is why the RDA for zinc is higher for pregnant and lactating women than for other adult women.
Older Infants Who Are Exclusively Breastfed
Breast milk provides sufficient zinc (2 mg/day) for the first 4–6 months of life but does not provide recommended amounts of zinc for infants aged 7–12 months, who need 3 mg/day. In addition to breast milk, infants aged 7–12 months should consume age-appropriate foods zinc-rich to meet their needs but getting sufficient quantities of these foods can be tough. Zinc deficiency in infancy can contribute to slow growth and development or a “failure to thrive” diagnosis.
Studies have shown that many alcoholics have low zinc status because ethanol consumption decreases intestinal absorption of zinc and increases urinary zinc excretion.
Those Who Take or Have Taken Hormonal Birth Control
Birth control pills can deplete your body of several B vitamins (riboflavin, B6, B12, and folic acid), vitamin C, magnesium, and zinc. And because contraceptives are often taken over extended periods of time, even subtle effects could add up.
People With Gastrointestinal & Other Diseases
Surgery and several gastrointestinal, digestive, and metabolic health conditions can decrease zinc absorption and increase the risk of zinc deficiency.
Zinc Deficiency Symptoms
Zinc is distributed throughout the cells in your body in trace amounts, and it can be difficult to accurately measure through a simple blood test. Doctors generally test for zinc deficiency through a blood plasma test, a urine test, or by analyzing a strand of your hair to measure the zinc content. If testing is unavailable to you, the following are some common symptoms of zinc deficiency to be aware of:
- Dry patches of skin
- Poor wound healing
- Immune deficiencies—getting sick often
- Skin lesions
- Poor glucose tolerance
- Declining cognitive function or lack of alertness
- Poor appetite
- Weight loss, generally as muscle loss
Zinc Deficiency Treatment
While zinc deficiency can be treated through food sources, supplementation may be necessary to fill in gaps in the diet, particularly for those with limited diets (like vegans) or increased needs (like pregnant women) to ensure that the deficiency is resolved before transitioning to a maintenance level of zinc intake.
Both plant and animal foods contain zinc. However, animal sources are generally richer sources (contain more zinc per serving) and are also more bioavailable, or easily absorbed by the body.
Animal sources: Zinc is found in animal proteins like red meat (5-10mg/serving), chicken (1-5mg/serving), fish (1-2mg/serving), and eggs (1-2mg/serving). The richest source of zinc is oysters, which can have more than 50mg per serving.
Plant sources: Zinc is found in many nuts, seeds, beans, and fortified grains, like chickpeas, baked beans, kidney beans, cashews, pumpkin seeds, and almonds. Each of these generally has 1-2mg of zinc per serving. Dairy also contains zinc, about 1mg per serving of cheese, yogurt, or milk.
Note that legumes (chickpeas, beans, peanuts, lentils, etc.) and whole grains contain “antinutrients” called phytates that bind to zinc and inhibit its absorption. You can reduce the binding of zinc by phytates by soaking beans, grains, and seeds in water for several hours before cooking them and allowing them to sit after soaking until sprouts form. In addition, leavened grain products (such as bread) have partially broken down phytate which allows the body to absorb more zinc than in unleavened products (such as crackers) where phytates are still more present.
There are a wide range of zinc supplements available, but many are cheap or synthetic forms that are highly processed and often very difficult on the stomach. Zinc supplements are notorious for causing nausea and vomiting, particularly when taken without food. Zinc Complex combines fermented zinc with an organic food complex of shiitake mushroom mycelia, camu camu berry, collard greens, spinach, parsley and cruciferous sprouts. The result is a potent plant-based supplement that is well-absorbed and very gentle on your stomach. Fermented whole foods means no nausea!
Interactions with Iron & Copper
It is important to note that certain nutrients can interfere with zinc absorption, so it is wise to consider these interactions when taking your supplements, particularly if you are otherwise at risk of a deficiency of one or more of these nutrients.
Iron: large amounts of supplemental iron (greater than 25 mg, as often found in prenatal vitamins or prescribed to those with iron deficiency anemia) may decrease zinc absorption. Taking iron supplements between meals helps decrease its effect on zinc absorption.
Copper: High intake of zinc can inhibit absorption of copper, potentially leading to copper deficiency. Taking your zinc supplement away from a multivitamin that contains copper can help prevent this deficiency. Note this effect on copper absorption is only realized in higher doses of zinc, so there’s no need to worry about the zinc and copper present together in your multivitamin.
How much Zinc Per Day Do You Need?
While RDAs exist for zinc, these amounts may not be sufficient in the case of a deficiency. So we turned to naturopathic doctor, Chante Wiegand for some guidance around safe maximum doses. She noted that “optimal intake is somewhere in the range of 15-30 mg daily depending on the individual needs of a person. In general, anything below 40mg is safe to take on an ongoing basis without the need for extra copper supplementation, which can be depleted from excess zinc use.”
One capsule of Zinc Complex offers 15mg of zinc and 25mg of vitamin C. This amount can act as an effective dose to increase your zinc levels and can be safely combined with your multivitamin supplements.