Zinc isn’t the first mineral we think of when we discuss mineral deficiency, but it is an essential mineral that can be lacking in modern soils.
Zinc is essential to cellular growth and the function of over 200 enzymes. This means it plays roles throughout the body. Zinc is involved in protein creation, immune function, wound healing, fertility, cellular division, DNA synthesis, taste, smell, and normal growth and development.
Symptoms of Zinc Deficiency
Zinc deficiency is fairly rare, but still more common than many people realize since soils have been depleted over the years and we have a hard time absorbing this mineral. Only about 30% of what we take in as food ever makes it into our bodies. If you aren’t getting much zinc in your food, then you may be deficient. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms that go along with a zinc deficiency, you should consult a physician as these symptoms may indicate other problems.
Fatigue, irritation, difficulty sleeping, hyperactivity, depression, trouble concentrating, diarrhea, lowered immunity, dandruff, hair loss, skin lesions or rashes, white spots on nails, menstrual cycle disruption, allergies, loss of sex drive, impaired sense of smell or taste, loss of appetite, slow healing, and stunted growth are all symptoms of a zinc deficiency. Those with this deficiency are also more prone to infections of any kind, bacterial, viral, or fungal. Colds and flu last longer and can develop into pneumonia. Anorexia and anemia are another concern, especially for women. Low testosterone and increased prostate cancer risks. Deficiency has also been linked to eye problems like myopia, glaucoma, cataracts, and macular degeneration.
Cause of Zinc Deficiency
Zinc deficiency is mainly caused by poor dietary intake, but other factors can inhibit the absorption of this mineral or deplete it too quickly. Diarrhea, digestive disorders, diabetes, pregnancy, lactation, growth periods in children, alcoholism, and sickle cell disease all contribute to zinc deficiency. Eating overly processed foods or living a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle can also lead to someone not getting the zinc they need. The already difficult to assimilate zinc also gets harder to absorb as we age. Zinc deficiency is more common in less developed countries, but it is a growing global concern as our soils become more and more depleted of minerals, and this is starting to affect even the most developed countries.
Vegetarians and vegans can minimize their risk by soaking or sprouting their seeds, nuts, and grains as often as possible. These whole foods contain phytic acid, which blocks the absorption of zinc and many other minerals. Supplements and fortified foods are available too, though the bioavailability of these have been called into question and excessive intake can be toxic, resulting in vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. It is much safer to get zinc from whole-food, all-natural sources.
Beans, seeds, nuts, and whole grains are excellent sources of zinc for vegans and vegetarians as long as they are soaked or sprouted. Legumes, spinach, sea vegetables, watermelon seeds, dark chocolate, pumpkin seeds, and some mushrooms are also good sources. Non-vegans usually get plenty of zinc, but may be missing many other nutrients by ignoring fruits and vegetables. A whole-food, all-natural vitamin supplement may also be in order. Choose one without synthetics or chemicals that has herbs, fruits, and vegetables in the ingredients rather than just a list of vitamins. These will provide vitamins and minerals from real food that are more easily recognized and absorbed by the body.