Zinc is one of the nutrients our body needs to function and stay healthy. We must maintain a diet and lifestyle to receive sufficient amounts of all of the nutrients we need.
A lack of nutrients in the body, or a deficiency, occurs when an individual does not get enough of a certain vitamin or mineral. Deficiencies prevent our bodies from working to their full potential and may even make us feel sick.
Zinc has many responsibilities in the human body. To make sure you are getting enough zinc in your diet, you must recognize the signs and symptoms of zinc deficiency.
What is Zinc?
Like all the different types of nutrients, zinc has unique properties. These properties impact how it functions in the body as well as how it is consumed and utilized.
- A Mineral - Unlike vitamins, minerals are inorganic elements found in soil or water. From there, they are eaten by humans or animals or absorbed by plants.
- A Trace Mineral - Unlike major minerals, trace minerals or microminerals are needed by the body in small amounts. This does not mean they are less important, however.
Although the body does not need a significant amount of zinc to be healthy, zinc deficiencies can occur. You must watch out for deficiency symptoms, even if you think you are consuming enough zinc.
The Role of Zinc in the Human Body
To gauge the importance of recognizing and supplementing zinc deficiency, it is essential to understand why it is so critical to body function. Zinc has a myriad of roles, all of which are equally important.
Zinc plays a major role in cell signaling or communicating messages between cells. This makes it important to immune function because it alerts white blood cells in the body of infection or present pathogens. Our fighter cells respond to these alerts and travel through the blood to the afflicted area.
DNA is made up of genes that give our cells instructions on how to function. Zinc is responsible for binding specific genes together, therefore helping to stabilize and build strands of DNA in the body.
While DNA synthesis is a complicated process that utilizes many nutrients and compounds, it has been identified that a type of zinc-dependent molecule is one of the important compounds used to make DNA.
Cell Division and Protein Formation
Cells divide in our bodies through DNA transcription, which involves making copies of DNA strands for new cells. Because zinc-dependent enzymes are integral to DNA synthesis, cells would not be able to divide without a DNA copy in their nuclei. These zinc-dependent enzymes also regulate the division process, making no mistakes when the DNA is copied.
The same zinc-dependent enzymes utilized for DNA synthesis and cell division are also integral in protein synthesis. Zinc induces the synthesis of new proteins, as well as helps stabilize their formulation.
Zinc is involved in every step of the healing process. It signals to fighter cells that tissue has been damaged or is being threatened, which rush over to protect and treat the afflicted area.
Once the white blood cells have responded to the wound, new cells and proteins are needed to replace the damaged ones. Zinc plays a vital role in synthesizing cells and proteins, which patch up the area and help it heal. In fact, approximately 5% of zinc in the human body is in the skin and helps heal wounds or damage to the skin’s surface.
Symptoms of Zinc Deficiency
Although our bodies only need small amounts of zinc, it is involved in some of its most essential processes that make up all of its cells and tissue. Zinc deficiency can have many detrimental effects on the body.
Because zinc is essential to cell division and tissue development, zinc deficiency can cause student growth, especially in children and adolescents. If you notice your child is developing slowly for his or her age, it may be due to zinc deficiency.
We recommend you speak to a physician to rule out any other causes.
Weight Loss and Decreased Appetite
Zinc helps regulate certain hormones in our bodies, including those that manage feelings of hunger and satiety. Unexplained weight loss and lack of appetite can be a symptom of zinc deficiency, as hormones that control satiety may become unbalanced with those that cause hunger.
Impaired Immune Function
Because zinc is directly involved in healing and immunity, zinc deficiency can cause impaired immune function.
If you notice that cuts and scratches on your body are not healing at a healthy rate, or if you notice you have been getting sick more often than usual, we suggest you check for zinc deficiency.
While the symptoms above are usually the first to appear when an individual is deficient in zinc, prolonged and severe deficiency can be very harmful.
If you notice any of the following symptoms, you may be severely deficient in zinc:
- Hair Loss
- Eye and Skin Lesions
- Loss of Taste and Smell
Those most susceptible to zinc deficiency include pregnant women, infants, young children, and vegan or vegetarians. In all cases, it is best to seek medical attention if symptoms of zinc deficiency are present, especially the more severe symptoms.
Getting Enough Zinc
Because zinc is not readily stored in the body, daily consumption is essential in keeping the body healthy. Adults need an intake of 12 to 10 milligrams a day, while children need five to 10 milligrams a day, based on their age.
Foods that contain zinc include:
- Red Meat
- Nuts and Seeds
- Dairy and Eggs
If you are at risk of zinc deficiency or do not eat enough zinc-rich foods, many types of zinc supplements can help you satisfy your required daily value.
While zinc is an important mineral, too much zinc can be just as harmful as its deficiency.
Too much zinc may cause:
- Chills and excessive sweating
- Muscle soreness and chest pain
- Coughing and shortness of breath
Zinc may also interact with other nutrients and medications, including:
- Copper, iron, and manganese
- Penicillamine and other antibiotics
Zinc is an essential mineral with plenty of potential health benefits, but it can cause harm if ingested in large doses. To ensure you are getting enough zinc to keep your body healthy without risking toxicity, make sure you eat zinc-rich foods and consider zinc supplementation if you are not able to get enough in your diet.
Vitamins and Minerals (for Teens) | Nemours Kids Health
Minerals: Their Functions and Sources | University of Michigan Health
Zinc - Health Professional Fact Sheet | National Institutes of Health
Plant Nutrient | Essential Elements - Micronutrients | Zinc | Role of Zinc in DNA and RNA Metabolism and Protein Synthesis | Biocyclopedia