Zinc Deficiency Symptoms, Causes & Correction

Zinc Deficiency Causes

Zinc is a mineral needed by the body to ward off infections and produce vital cells. And while zinc is one of the easier nutrients to obtain through proper dieting, it’s still important to understand the common zinc deficiency symptoms so you know what to look for if you suspect you’re not getting enough.

What causes zinc deficiency? For some people, it’s simply a matter of not getting enough nutrients through their diet. There are also specific conditions that affect the absorption of zinc in the body. For example, studies show that alcoholics might have a harder time absorbing zinc.

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.

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.

If you are vegetarian or vegan, you might also struggle to get the proper amount of zinc through your diet. And if you suffer from one of the following conditions, you might be more at risk for zinc deficiency:

  • Gastrointestinal diseases, such as Crohn’s disease
  • Sickle cell anemia
  • Chronic Kidney Disease

Once you understand the causes of low zinc in the body, it is much easier to reverse the effects. So, what are the signs of a zinc deficiency, anyway?

Signs of Zinc Deficiency

All ages and genders can be affected by zinc deficiency. The only difference is how the symptoms reveal themselves. For example, the symptoms of zinc deficiency in adults are going to be different than the zinc deficiency symptoms in toddlers. In addition, you will notice that the symptoms of zinc deficiency in males show up in different ways when compared with symptoms of zinc deficiency in females.

The U.S. National Library of Medicine states that zinc is a vital trace mineral that the body needs to remain healthy. 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.

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 is also required for your taste and smell senses to function properly. Furthermore, zinc is required in childhood, infancy and pregnancy for the body to develop correctly. In addition, zinc plays a role in insulin action, meaning a deficiency can lead to other, more serious health issues.

Weakened Immune System

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.

Zinc deficiency also increases the chance of infection. Studies show that zinc deficiency is linked to more than 450,000 deaths in children under the age of five each year.

Slower Healing of Wounds

Another common zinc deficiency symptom is slower wound healing. 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 signs and symptoms of zinc deficiency can be especially dangerous for people with diabetes or compromised immune systems because they may already have a harder time with wound healing.

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.

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.

Weight Loss

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.


Among the most unpleasant symptoms of zinc deficiency is diarrhea. As zinc absorption decreases, the digestive system suffers. Zinc absorption occurs in the intestine where zinc is also excreted.

Dietary inadequacy of zinc has been shown to cause diarrhea in several studies. However, the reason this deficiency leads to diarrhea is still unclear. Further clinical research is needed to determine what leads to intestinal discomfort. However, zinc supplementation might be able to alleviate the symptoms.

Hair Loss

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.

Inability to Concentrate

One of the most common zinc deficiency neurological symptoms is 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.

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. 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. Because zinc is also essential for immune system function, a deficiency can lead to intrauterine infections, which could cause preterm birth.

While zinc is important in prenatal nutrition, it is a mineral that can easily be consumed through a healthy diet. However, there are times when supplementation is needed. With that said, most high-quality prenatal vitamins contain a substantial amount of zinc.

Zinc supplementation during pregnancy has been shown in research to improve the gestational age of the baby. It also aids in the natural production of hormones needed for a healthy labor.

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.

Eating these foods will help you receive the recommended amount:

  • Oysters
  • Red meat
  • Seafood, such as lobsters and crabs
  • Poultry
  • Fortified breakfast cereals
  • Nuts
  • Beans
  • Dairy products
  • Whole grains

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.

Many multivitamins contain zinc. You can also find high-quality zinc supplements that are combined with other minerals, such as magnesium or calcium. Zinc supplements come in a variety of forms, including zinc sulfate, zinc acetate and zinc gluconate.

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