Zinc is an essential mineral which is present at various tissues of the body like the bones, teeth, hair, skin, liver, muscles, white blood cells and the testes. It is also present in more than 100 enzymes produced in the body. Some of these enzymes are essential to form RNA & DNA as well. It is important to keep the skin healthy, to heal wounds and for growth.
The zinc obtained from diet will determine the zinc levels in the body. And since it is so important for the bodily functions, a deficiency can cause many problems. Extreme deficiency can be dangerous for the health and wellbeing of children in growing years.
What Is Zinc Deficiency?
The number of activities in which zinc is essential for the bodily functions is very high. Some of the activities are:
- Metabolism and energy
- Support to the immune system, thus protecting the body from infections, diseases & pathogens
- Carbohydrate breakdown
- Reproduction, growth, and division of the cells
Since it is involved in a large number of body processes, zinc deficiency can also cause a lot of problems. Some of the problems associated with zinc deficiency are loss of vision, delayed sexual maturation in men etc.
The Necessary Amount of Zinc
The recommended dietary intake for Zinc in different age groups is listed below.
2 mg/ day
3 mg/ day
3 mg/ day
5 mg / day
8 mg/ day
Adolescents & Adults
Male: 14 years & above
Females: 14 – 18 years
Females: 19 years & above
11 mg/ day
9 mg/ day
8 mg/ day
What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Zinc Deficiency?
Some of the commonly seen symptoms of zinc deficiency are:
- Dry & scaly skin
- Loss of appetite and unexplained weight loss
- Reduced sense of smell and taste
- Loss of hearing & loss of vision
- Delayed sexual maturation in men
- Hair loss and thinning
- Stunted growth
- Slow healing of wounds & bruises
- Increased susceptibility to infections
When to See a Doctor
Sometimes the zinc deficiency can cause serious conditions, and it becomes important to get a doctor to check the symptoms. Some of the more serious symptoms are given below:
- Recurring infections
- Unusual and extreme weight loss
- Delay in development in children
- Failure to thrive in children
What Are the Causes & Risk Factors of Zinc Deficiency?
When the supply of zinc is inadequate in the diet, it can lead to zinc deficiency. This can happen when the diet is predominantly vegetarian. Since zinc is essential for many roles in the functioning of the body, a deficiency can cause a variety of problems. It is responsible for supporting the immune system, and deficiency can lead to recurrent infections. It is important in breakdown of carbohydrates, cell growth, division and reproduction as well. Zinc supplements might be required by the one who has a vegetarian diet.
The various risk factors to cause a zinc deficiency are listed below.
- GI conditions like ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, short bowel syndrome and chronic diarrhea
- Chronic liver or kidney disease
- Inadequate diet
- Sickle cell disease
- Vegetarian diet
- Pregnancy & breastfeeding
- Alcoholism (decreasing zinc absorption and increasing the urinary excretion of zinc)
- People consuming high iron supplements (as it interferes with zinc absorption)
What Are the Treatments for Zinc Deficiency?
When a person is diagnosed with zinc deficiency, the first step is to introduce zinc supplements in the diet and also introducing zinc rich foods in the diet. It is also essential to follow the dietary guidelines recommended for all age groups. Given below are good sources of zinc:
- Foods rich in protein contain zinc in high amounts. Beef, pork, lamb have higher zinc content than fish. In chicken, the darker meat will have more zinc as compared to the lighter meat.
- Nuts, whole grains, legumes and yeast are also good sources of zinc
- Zinc is present in multi vitamin and mineral supplements in the form of zinc gluconate, zinc sulfate or zinc acetate.
- OTC medicines like cold lozenges, nasal sprays and nasal gels also contain zinc.
Zinc deficiency is determined by the symptoms presented by the person along with the circumstances and also the response to zinc supplements. The person is asked to continue to zinc supplements orally, till the symptoms disappear. It is difficult to determine the zinc status based on blood and urine tests. It is important to be cautious to avoid taking it in excess when taking supplements.