Zinc deficiency is a common problem in the United States. Up to 40 percent of the population may have low levels of zinc.
Zinc is an important mineral for the body, and it’s needed for a wide range of processes. It’s also important for immune function, reproduction, hormone production, and more.
This deficiency is more common among people who have chronic diarrhea or vomiting. Both are conditions that cause greater loss of fluids from the body than normal.
A vegetarian diet may also contribute to a deficiency. This is because some plant foods contain phytates that bind minerals like zinc and prevent their absorption by the body.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance for zinc (1) is 8 to 11 milligrams a day for adult men and women.
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Signs & Symptoms Of Zinc Deficiency
Achieving adequate intake levels means you get enough zinc in your diet while avoiding excessive amounts. If you eat too much zinc, you could develop nausea, vomiting, or even diarrhea. But what are the signs and symptoms of zinc deficiency?
1. Loss of appetite
Zinc is an essential mineral that is involved in numerous physiological processes in the body, including the regulation of appetite.
One of the primary reasons why zinc deficiency can cause a loss of appetite is that zinc is necessary for the production of the hormone ghrelin (2), which is known to stimulate hunger.
Ghrelin is produced in the stomach and helps to regulate appetite by signaling to the brain when it’s time to eat. Without sufficient levels of zinc, the body may not produce enough ghrelin. This can result in a decrease in appetite.
In addition, zinc deficiency can also lead to alterations in taste and smell perception, which can further contribute to a loss of appetite.
Without enough zinc, these receptors may not function properly, leading to a diminished sense of taste and smell, which can make food less appealing and reduce appetite.
2. Hair loss
Zinc is an essential mineral that is important for maintaining healthy hair, skin, and nails. When there is a deficiency of zinc in the body, it can lead to hair loss.
One of the primary reasons why zinc deficiency can cause hair loss is that zinc is involved in the formation of hair follicles. Hair follicles (3) are tiny, sac-like structures that produce and nourish hair.
Zinc helps to support the growth and development of these follicles. Without enough zinc, hair follicles may not develop properly, leading to hair loss.
In addition, zinc is also important for the proper function of the immune system. And a weakened immune system can contribute to hair loss.
Zinc is also involved in the production of proteins that make up the structure of the hair. Without enough zinc, the body may not produce enough of these proteins. This leads to weaker hair that is more prone to breakage and loss.
So, if you are experiencing hair loss, it’s essential to ensure that you are getting enough zinc in your diet.
3. Leaky gut syndrome
Leaky gut syndrome (4) is a condition in which the lining of the intestines becomes more porous. This allows harmful substances such as toxins, bacteria, and undigested food particles to leak into the bloodstream.
This can lead to inflammation, immune system activation, and a range of health problems.
Zinc is essential for the maintenance and repair of the lining of the gastrointestinal tract (5). A deficiency in this mineral can weaken the intestinal lining, making it more susceptible to damage and inflammation.
Zinc is also important for the production of a protein called tight junction protein (6). This protein helps to seal the gaps between intestinal cells to prevent the leakage of harmful substances.
In addition, zinc deficiency can also compromise the immune system, making it more difficult for the body to fight off infections and inflammation in the gut. This can further contribute to the development of the leaky gut syndrome.
It’s also important to address any underlying factors that may be contributing to a leaky gut, such as chronic stress, infections, or a poor diet.
4. A decline in mental health
One of the primary reasons why zinc deficiency can cause a decline in mental health is that zinc is necessary for the production and regulation of neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters (7) are chemical messengers that transmit signals in the brain.
Zinc is required for the synthesis of certain neurotransmitters, including dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, which are important for regulating mood, behavior, and cognition.
Without sufficient levels of zinc, the production and function of these neurotransmitters can be impaired, leading to mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, and cognitive decline.
In addition, zinc is also important for the maintenance of brain structure and function.
Zinc plays a critical role in the growth and development of brain cells. It’s also important for the formation and maintenance of synapses (8), which are the connections between brain cells that allow them to communicate with each other.
Zinc deficiency can impair these processes, leading to structural and functional changes in the brain that can contribute to mental health problems.
5. A decrease in senses
An important function of zinc is to develop sensory organs. A lack of zinc in your body may result in decreased senses including vision and hearing problems.
Zinc deficiency can lead to a condition called hypogeusia, which is a decreased sense of taste. This is because zinc is required for the proper functioning of taste receptors in the mouth.
When there is a deficiency of zinc, the taste receptors become less sensitive, and the ability to taste decreases.
Zinc deficiency can also lead to a decrease in the sense of smell, known as hyposmia. This is because zinc is required for the proper functioning of the olfactory receptors in the nose.
When there is a deficiency of zinc, the olfactory receptors become less sensitive, and the ability to smell decreases.
Additionally, zinc deficiency can affect the functioning of the nervous system, which can lead to a decrease in the sense of touch and hearing.
6. Slow healing of wounds
Zinc deficiency can cause slow healing of wounds because zinc is an essential mineral that plays a crucial role in wound healing.
It is required for the growth and division of cells, the formation of new tissue, and the production of collagen (9), which is a protein that forms the structure of the skin, bone, and other tissues.
When there is a deficiency of zinc, the body’s ability to heal wounds is impaired. Zinc deficiency can lead to a delay in the formation of new tissue, which can cause wounds to remain open for longer periods.
It can also lead to a decrease in the production of collagen, which is necessary for the formation of new tissue and the repair of damaged tissue.
Zinc deficiency can also impair the immune system’s ability to fight infections, which can further delay the healing process.
Zinc is necessary for the proper functioning of white blood cells, which are essential for fighting off infections.
In addition, zinc deficiency can cause other health problems, such as a weakened immune system, decreased appetite, and weight loss, which can further impair the body’s ability to heal wounds.
In summary, zinc deficiency can cause slow healing of wounds because it is essential for the growth and division of cells, the formation of new tissue, and the production of collagen.
Zinc deficiency can also impair the immune system’s ability to fight infections and cause other health problems that can delay the healing process.
7. Impaired memory
Zinc is an essential mineral that plays a crucial role in the functioning of the brain, including memory and cognitive function. When there is a deficiency of zinc in the body, it can contribute to impaired memory.
One of the primary reasons why zinc deficiency can cause impaired memory is that zinc is involved in the regulation of synaptic plasticity (10). This is the ability of the brain to change and adapt in response to new experiences and learning.
Zinc is also important for the formation and maintenance of the structure of the brain. This is because it’s involved in the growth and development of brain cells and the formation of neural connections.
Zinc deficiency can impair these processes, leading to structural and functional changes in the brain that can contribute to impaired memory.
So, if you are experiencing impaired memory, it’s essential to make sure that you are getting enough zinc in your diet. You can also consider taking a zinc supplement, after consulting with a healthcare provider.
8. Low immune system
Zinc deficiency can lead to a decreased number of white blood cells, which are essential for fighting off infections. It can also impair the ability of white blood cells to function properly, which can weaken the immune system.
In addition, zinc deficiency can lead to an increase in oxidative stress, which can damage cells and tissues in the body. This can further weaken the immune system and increase the risk of infections.
Zinc is also necessary for the production of antibodies, which are proteins that help the body recognize and fight off specific pathogens, such as bacteria and viruses.
Zinc is necessary for the proper functioning of the cells that line the intestine called enterocytes, which are responsible for absorbing nutrients and water.
When there is a deficiency of zinc, the enterocytes become damaged and are unable to function properly.
This can lead to an increase in the permeability of the intestinal lining, which allows bacteria and other harmful substances to enter the bloodstream, leading to inflammation and diarrhea.
Zinc deficiency can also impair the immune system’s ability to fight off infections, including those that can cause diarrhea, such as bacterial and viral infections.
After carefully studying all of the supporting arguments, it’s important to end on a positive note. Instead of worrying about deficiencies, there are natural ways to boost your zinc levels through diet and exercise.
Supplementing your diet with zinc is one method of doing this. Zinc supplements are available in tablet or capsule form, or as a lozenge, which kids like because it often tastes like candy or fruit.
You can also try to begin incorporating foods high in zinc into your diet on a regular basis!