Zinc is a trace element and essential nutrient that everyone needs in their diet to keep the body functioning normally. Zinc plays a role in immune function, DNA synthesis, and protein synthesis.
The difficulty with zinc is that zinc deficiency and overnutrition have several symptoms in common and can make it difficult to distinguish without a lab test. But how much zinc is too much?
What types of effects might you experience if you did have too much zinc? To better understand the symptoms of excess zinc, we need to take a look at the zinc mechanisms.
Macromolecule Synthesis Mechanisms
Zinc fingers are substructures that can be found in some transcription factors that bind to DNA. Zinc fingers recognize specific nucleotide base pair sequences and allow proteins to properly bind to DNA to replicate or transcribe the specified gene.
How Much Zinc Is Too Much?
The amount of zinc each person needs each day is dependent on a variety of life stage factors, including age and pregnancy. It ranges from 2 to 13 mg, with men and women needing 11 mg and 8 mg.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women will also need more zinc in their diet to ensure their newborns are receiving enough nutrients for proper development. But these numbers are the lower limits, the minimum amount, that each person should be taking in each day.
Usually, the average adult body can tolerate up to 40 mg of zinc before experiencing any major negative symptoms; children and teens have a lower upper limit for daily zinc intake.
Some short term negative symptoms that a person might experiment from excess zinc include:
- loss of appetite
- stomach cramps
Chronic zinc overnutrition can result in lower immune function and lower cardiovascular health. Cardiovascular health relies on many factors but primarily through proper lipid ratios, which have been largely dependent on insulin regulation. However, lower levels of HDL cholesterol have also been shown as a consequence of excessive zinc.
Another ratio that is disturbed by excess zinc is the copper-to-zinc ratio. The copper to zinc ratio is one of many minerals and other ratios that can be used as a diagnostic tool to help your body retain a proper nutritional balance that can prevent the onset of chronic diseases.
Some of these ratios include:
- Omega-6 to Omega-3
- Potassium to Sodium
- Calcium to Magnesium
- Iron to Copper
- Calcium to Phosphorus
The copper-to-zinc ratio has been used in numerous studies, and its imbalance has been correlated with a number of different diseases. While it is still unknown if this is a relevant driver of any of these diseases it has been known to have a direct effect on one antioxidant enzyme within the body.
Trace metals in the body are an essential part of metabolic health that allows for reduction and oxidation reactions to occur within the body. When metal ion balances, such as the copper to zinc ratio, become out of balance, more oxidative stress can be put on the body.
Zinc and copper are also found in the hippocampus and can be used as neurotransmitters. They compete for absorption in your small intestine as doses of zinc can interfere with the body’s absorption. When the ratio gets out of balance, typically due to a zinc deficiency, many health issues can arise including delayed wound healing, hyperactivity, attention deficit disorders, behavior disorders, depression, degrees of autism, and paranoid schizophrenia.
How You Could Be Getting Too Much Zinc
There are a variety of different ways that a person could begin to develop zinc over nutrition. Sometimes the body takes in too much zinc through the diet. Food sources that contain vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber and are high in zinc include:
- Seafood, such as crab, lobsters, and oysters
- Red meat
- Beans and legumes
- Whole grains
- Fortified breakfast cereals
- Dairy products
But diet isn’t the only way that zinc can make its way into our bodies. People who work in metallurgy have a much higher risk and may even develop a condition called metal fume fever. This condition is usually a result of breathing contaminated air with high doses of zinc and other metals like copper. However, using high levels of zinc could lead to copper deficiency and a zinc overdose.
Common symptoms of excessive zinc levels include:
- Muscle soreness
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
Excess zinc buildup doesn’t just come from too much zinc entering the body; it can also come from zinc not leaving the body. One drug, Amiloride, prevents zinc from leaving the body, and it can begin to build up over time.
Zinc can also interact with various other supplements and drugs, so they should not be taken together. Common examples include:
- Antacids, such as calcium carbonate
- Thiazide diuretics
It is important to speak with a doctor before taking any supplement, particularly when using medications that may interact with zinc.
What if You're Not Getting Enough Zinc?
While zinc deficiency is not common in developed countries, the effects of deficiency are more well known and have some symptoms in common with overnutrition. Those with low levels of zinc may have a higher risk of developing pneumonia and other infections.
For example, a disruption of the copper to zinc ratio in either direction may cause similar symptoms. Additionally, digestive symptoms, such as diarrhea and loss of appetite, and impaired immune function are also shared by the presence of a zinc deficiency. Not to mention, those with digestive disorders such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis can decrease the amount of zinc the body absorbs.
Some other symptoms unique to zinc deficiency include:
- Hair loss
- Skin sores
- Weight loss
- Lower alertness
- Lower ability to taste
Some people who might be at risk for zinc deficiency include:
- Individuals with digestive disorders or various gastrointestinal surgeries that can reduce the body's ability to absorb zinc.
- Vegetarians who avoid zinc-rich foods, such as meat, and eat foods like beans and grains that reduce the body's ability to absorb the zinc.
- Alcoholics since alcoholic beverages reduce that ability for zinc to be absorbed and encourage zinc loss through the urine.
- People with sickle cell disease.
Getting a diagnostic lab test can tell you your zinc level which can help you decide if your levels are too high or too low. Make sure to discuss zinc concerns with your doctor.
Zinc plays an essential role in various body functions and is responsible for keeping your mind sharp and your DNA replicating correctly. When your zinc level is out of balance, it can cause many things to go wrong for your digestive and immune systems.
Determining if you are zinc deficient or have excess zinc without a diagnostic test can be tricky since there are similar symptoms. Consider talking to your doctor about getting your levels checked and then follow the recommendations to get your levels back in that 8/11-40 mg sweet spot range once again.
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