What causes zinc deficiency? Of all the trace minerals that are found in the body, zinc is second in concentration only to iron, which means your body requires more zinc than nearly every other trace mineral. For some people, it’s simply a matter of not getting enough nutrients through their diet. But others may have poor gut health or specific health conditions that affect the absorption of zinc in the body. Once you understand the causes of low zinc in the body, it is much easier to reverse the effects.
Common Causes of Zinc Deficiency
The U.S. National Library of Medicine states that zinc is a vital trace mineral that the body needs to remain healthy. Zinc deficiency can arise from various factors, often interlinked, that prevent adequate zinc intake, absorption, or utilization. Dietary limitations are a common cause, especially among vegetarians and vegans, as some of the richest sources of zinc are found in meat, seafood, and dairy. Moreover, certain foods contain phytates—found in whole grains, legumes, and some seeds—that can inhibit zinc absorption.
Some of the most common health disturbances that can put you more at risk for zinc deficiency include:
- Gastrointestinal diseases, such as Crohn’s disease
- Sickle cell anemia
- Chronic Kidney Disease
- Prolonged Use of Antibiotics
What Happens When You're Zinc Deficient
Loss of Appetite
The loss of appetite is one most common sign of zinc deficiency. The Office of Dietary Supplements suggests that many patients who suffer from a lack of zinc in their diet also have a diminished appetite. In fact, studies have looked into a correlation between proper zinc absorption and the treatment of anorexia. In some cases, zinc has been used to increase the appetite in those suffering from it. If you are vegetarian or vegan, you might also struggle to get the proper amount of zinc through your diet.
While zinc deficiency may suppress the appetite, it doesn’t always cause weight loss. In fact, studies indicate there’s a connection between zinc and proper thyroid function, which can affect weight. A deficiency might create decreased levels of thyroid hormone secretion, which affects the body’s metabolism and resting metabolic rate. What this means, is that not getting enough zinc may slow down the body’s metabolic rate, making it more challenging to burn fat. There is also a link between reduced testosterone and zinc depletion. And this hormone is required for muscle growth and fat burning.
Inability to Concentrate
One of the earliest signs of zinc deficiency are neurological symptoms including brain fog, or the inability to concentrate. Studies indicate a lack of zinc could lead to decreased nerve conduction, mental lethargy, neuropsychiatric disorders and neurosensory disorders. When these symptoms occur, it’s possible for a person to experience cognitive difficulty, whether it is during everyday function or through memory. This may indicate why the effect of zinc supplementation on people with Alzheimer’s has been studied.
Zinc deficiency has been linked to hair loss. In fact, some studies show supplements may reduce hair loss. While it’s unclear why a lack of zinc promotes hair loss, we know zinc is needed in cell regrowth and regeneration. It also aids in keeping oil glands located around hair follicles working properly. On the other hand, taking too much zinc can also cause problems. The Office of Dietary Supplements indicates having too much zinc in the body can cause the same type of symptoms as having too little.
Among the most unpleasant symptoms of zinc deficiency is diarrhea. As zinc absorption decreases, the digestive system suffers. However, the reason this deficiency leads to diarrhea is still unclear. Zinc absorption occurs in the intestine where zinc is also excreted. Dietary inadequacy of zinc has been shown to cause diarrhea in several studies. Further clinical research is needed to determine what leads to intestinal discomfort. However, zinc supplementation might be able to alleviate the symptoms.
Reduced Ability To Recover
Zinc is essential to the body’s defense system. Without it, the immune system can suffer. It’s needed to break down carbohydrates, promote wound healing, encourage cell growth and facilitate cell division. Zinc deficiency also increases the chance of infection.
Weakened Immune Function
One of the most common symptoms of zinc deficiency is a weakened immune system. Studies show it’s needed for the normal development of immune-boosting cells. Zinc deficiency affects the function and growth of both T and B cells. Additionally, zinc is needed to stabilize membranes and promote antioxidant function. It can prevent the free radical-induced injury that occurs during the inflammatory process.
Slower Healing of Wounds
Along with zinc, copper and iron are also some of the main minerals that promote wound healing. These three minerals support protein synthesis, collagen synthesis and tissue regrowth can occur naturally. Research indicates zinc plays a vital role in regulating every aspect of healing. It’s needed for membrane repair, coagulation, oxidative stress, immune defense, inflammation defense, scar formation, tissue re-epithelialization and angiogenesis.
The Importance of Zinc During Pregnancy
Being pregnant is one of the main causes of low zinc levels in the blood. The World Health Organization estimates that more than eighty percent of pregnant women have an inadequate zinc intake.
Zinc Passed From Mother To Child
Maternal zinc deficiency can affect the unborn baby’s development and cause health problems at birth. Not only is zinc transported to the baby through the placenta, but it is also essential to circulating healthy hormone levels of labor. Zinc supplementation during pregnancy has been shown in research to improve the gestational age of the baby. Because zinc is also essential for immune system function, a deficiency can lead to intrauterine infections, which could cause preterm birth.
Important Pre-and Post-Pregnancy
Additionally, pregnant women must be particularly conscious of the common symptoms of zinc deficiency. Babies require zinc while they’re still in the womb to develop properly. For this reason, a pregnant woman will require more zinc to support the development of her baby. It also aids in the natural production of hormones needed for a healthy labor. Furthermore, breastfed infants and older adults are part of the at-risk category for zinc deficiency. If a mom is breastfeeding, it is vital that she receives enough nutrients to feed her infant child.
How to Correct a Zinc Deficiency
Once you understand zinc deficiency symptoms, you need to know how to correct it. How long does it take to correct a zinc deficiency? It depends on how deficient you are and what steps you take to fix it.
The Office of Dietary Supplements recommends that adults receive between 8 and 13 mg of zinc every day. Thankfully, there is an abundance of food that is rich in zinc. If you can’t get enough zinc through your diet, whether it’s due to dietary restrictions, absorption issues or an underlying condition, you may require supplementation.
Eating these foods will help you receive the recommended amount:
- Red meat
- Some Seafoods
- Fortified breakfast cereals
- Dairy products
- Whole grains