Zinc is an incredibly important micronutrient to the proper function of our cells, regardless of the type of cell it is. For this reason, having a zinc deficiency can have a very wide range of symptoms, depending on if the deficiency is severe or marginal. It is estimated that 2 billion people around the world are affected by a dietary Zinc deficiency.
So what makes zinc so important?
1) This micronutrient plays an important role in the formation of structural proteins like antioxidants and in the outer membrane of each cell. This means that if we don’t have enough zinc in our cells, the proteins that our cells form will not be able to function correctly, leading to increased risk of oxidative damage and impaired cellular function.
2) Very important in the development and function of immune cells, specifically T-cell growth and differentiation into white blood cells to ward off infection and disease.
3) Zinc is also important to cell signalling as it plays an essential role in the release of hormones and neurotransmitter release from nerve cells. Without zinc, our hormones and nerves would not function properly.
4) Zinc plays an important part in the programmed cell death of cells that are no longer functioning correctly, thus regulating cellular growth and development. If there is a lack of zinc in these cells, they will not undergo their regulatory process of cellular death and could potentially be a source of cancer and other chronic diseases.
Who is at risk of being deficient in zinc?
People that suffer from the following conditions are at higher risk of being deficient:
- Nutrient absorption syndromes
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Crohn’s, Ulcerative Colitis)
- Hemodialysis patients
- Strict Vegetarians (mild risk)
How do you find out if you are suffering from zinc deficiency?
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Those who suffer from zinc deficiency tend to have the following symptoms:
- Poor neurological function
o Attention and motor disorders in infants, that continues into adulthood.
- Weak Immune System function
o Those who suffer from persistent colds, infections and hormonal issues.
o Most likely caused by impaired immune system function.
- Food and Environmental Allergies
o Low zinc levels lead to increased release of histamines causing increased allergy symptoms and increased sensitivity to allergic reactions.
- Thinning Hair
o Thyroid hormones are essential for zinc absorption, as is thinning hair, and it has been shown that supplementation of zinc and thyroid hormone together can improve hair loss caused by hypothyroidism.
- Intestinal Permeability (Leaky Gut)
o In the digestive tracts of patients with Leaky Gut and Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, zinc has been shown to “tighten” or decrease the leakiness of the intestinal barrier, in patients suffering from Crohn’s disease.
- Acne, Rashes, White Spots on Nails
o Some people can develop skin issues, rashes, and even acne due to insufficient levels of zinc.
What foods can you eat to help raise zinc levels?
There are many whole foods that are high in zinc, but if you require treatment for deficiency, speak to your doctor or natural health specialist before beginning any regimen of zinc supplementation. Some of the best foods are:
- Grass-Fed Beef and Lamb
- Pumpkin and Squash Seeds
- Chickpeas (Garbanzo Beans) and Mung Beans
- Cooked Oysters
- Kefir or Yogurt
- Cocoa Powder
Please speak to a natural health specialist or functional medicine doctor before beginning any treatment for zinc deficiency.
Higdon J, D. V. (2013, June). Zinc Deficiency. Retrieved from Linus Pauling Institute: Micronutrient Information Center: http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/minerals/zinc#deficiency
J, A. (2015). 7 Signs of Zinc Deficiency & the Best Foods to Cure it! Retrieved from Dr. Axe: http://draxe.com/zinc-deficiency/
Mayo Clinic. (2013, November 1). Zinc: Drugs and Supplementation. Retrieved from Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/zinc/evidence/hrb-20060638
Nutri-facts. (2012, February 26). Zinc. Retrieved from Nutri-facts: Understanding Vitamins & More: http://www.nutri-facts.org/eng/trace-elements/zinc/health-functions/
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