Zinc: a building block for good health at every age
Zinc is a master-mineral of good health but many of us don’t get enough each day. Zinc deficiency is one of the world’s most prevalent micro-nutrient deficiencies[i], according to a report published in the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism.
Why are we missing out on zinc?
People of all ages may be at risk of deficiency including infants, toddlers, and the elderly. Vegetarians and vegans also need to work extra hard to ensure they get enough zinc in their diet.
Diets low in zinc-rich foods (such as those avoiding red meat and seafood), combined with lower zinc levels in soils and reliance on highly processed foods, may lead to a zinc deficiency.
In the body
Zinc is an essential mineral that is involved in overall health including the function of structural proteins, hormone production and secretion and antioxidant protection. The immune, digestive and reproductive system, the skin, and connective tissues all require adequate zinc to keep working efficiently.
Unfortunately, the body has no long-term storage system for zinc so we need regular dietary intake to sustain all of these functions.
Signs of zinc deficiency
Unfortunately zinc deficiency isn’t always obvious. Some of the key signs of zinc deficiency include:
- Poor neurological function - Low zinc levels are linked to attention and motor disorders.[ii]
- Weak immunity - Zinc is essential to maintain immune function[iii]particularly for T-cell growth and generating white blood cells to help ward off disease. Zinc also helps to kill off dangerous bacteria and viruses.
- Diarrhoea – This is most likely due to poor immune function.
- Allergies - Zinc is a key factor in how your body stores histamine. Lower zinc levels allows more histamine to be released into the surrounding tissue fluids and may increase your risk of the common symptoms associated with allergies (running nose, sneezing, hives, etc.).
- Hair and skin issues - Zinc is an essential mineral to maintain the integrity of the skin and other connective tissues.
- Fertility issues – Zinc has an important role to play in optimising both male and female fertility.
- Other symptoms - growth and development problems, hair loss, eye conditions, loss of appetite, slower wound healing, taste changes, and mental slowness.
Boost your zinc
As it is not stored for long periods in the body, we need a daily supply of quality zinc from our diet or from supplements.
Major food sources of zinc include:
- Animal Protein - The richest sources of dietary zinc are animal based foods including oysters, crab, beef, chicken, turkey and dairy.
- Plant Foods - Beans, chickpeas, peanuts and almonds provide zinc. The reduced levels of zinc found in plant foods is a contributing factor to the increased risk of zinc deficiency among vegetarians and vegans.
If you don’t eat animal products, soaking and sprouting legumes and nuts or choosing plant-based foods that have been fermented (e.g. choosing sourdough bread, which has undergone a fermentation process) also helps your body absorb zinc.
With soils in Australia's major agricultural food growing regions showing extensive zinc depletion, thus decreasing the zinc content of many foods, you may want to consider supplementation.
Your healthcare professional may consider testing your levels of zinc. There are many tests options available today, including taste tests, blood tests, hair tests, urine tests and measuring certain enzymes. Ask your health professional about testing your zinc levels or whether supplementation is right for you. Vitamin and mineral supplements should not replace a balanced diet.
References available on request