Deal with Your Deficiencies!: Zinc
Week 2 of our "Deal with Your Deficiencies" series is here, and the spotlight is on ZINC today. Do you have white spots on your fingernails? How about no moons near the cuticle of your nails? Have you lost some of your sense of taste and/or smell? All of these seemingly unrelated symptoms are signs of a zinc deficiency.
The Importance of Zinc
Zinc, like all micronutrients and minerals, is crucial for optimal health and wellbeing...as well as survival. An "essential" nutrient (meaning your body cannot make or store it), zinc must be obtained from the diet or through supplements in order for the body's requirements to be met. Zinc is required for proper growth, whether in humans, plants, or animals, and prolonged and severe deficiencies of this trace mineral can actually stunt growth or inhibit it completely. It is paramount in the regulation of sex hormones (and fertility in both males and females), immune function and health, and the metabolism of fats and sugars (insulin regulation and expression). Zinc is also used for cell division and DNA replication, making it of utmost importance for wound healing. Finally, zinc is also important in the prevention of neurodegenerative disorders, from idiopathic memory loss to Parkinson's disease.
Symptoms of Zinc Deficiency
Telltale signs of a zinc deficiency include white spots or lack of "moons" on the fingernails, getting sick often (and taking a long time to recover), lack of appetite, "failure to thrive"/delayed development or puberty, short stature, patches of dry skin, blisters/boils/acne, alopecia (hair loss), and impaired wound healing. It is important to note that zinc deficiency can also cause resistance to a number of other important things in the body, including vitamin A, vitamin D, sex hormones, thyroid hormone, and cortisol, as well as a number of pharmaceutical drugs and supplements. Zinc is required for the metabolism and absorption of many other vitamins and minerals (especially vitamin A) and without an adequate supply, other deficiencies will undoubtedly result.
Deal with Your Deficiency!
So you might be zinc deficient. How do you know for sure? A comprehensive micronutrient test (such as the Nutreval) can confirm a zinc deficiency, as well as any other deficiencies that may be present. These tests can be ordered by qualified Naturopathic Doctors (myself included). If you have already received confirmation of a zinc deficiency (i.e. a plasma zinc level lower than 70 in women and 74 in men), then waste no time in addressing it.
The best and most preferable way to address a zinc deficiency (as well as ANY deficiency) is always to try to get the needed nutrient through your diet (as in increasing zinc-rich foods), versus getting it through a supplement. Our bodies were designed to digest FOOD, not PILLS, and while supplements can be incredibly useful in certain situations where increasing the needed foods is not possible (like in food allergy/sensitivity cases), it is always optimal to try to get your nutrients through food, if at all possible.
With that said, the best food sources of zinc include Oysters, Meat (especially lamb and grass-fed beef), Legumes (especially lentils and garbanzo beans/chickpeas), Dairy (especially cheese and yogurt), and Seeds (especially pumpkin seeds, cashews, and almonds).
It is important to note that one of the primary causes of zinc deficiency is impaired absorption. Most everyone consumes "enough" zinc through their diet; the real issue is that the zinc they're consuming is not making it to where it needs to go! Why is this the case, and what causes impaired absorption?
The main inhibitor of zinc absorption is PHYTATE. Phytate is a naturally-occurring food chemical that is found in whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes. Much of the phytate found in these foods can be removed through proper preparation procedures, including soaking, sprouting, and fermenting. However, regardless of preparation practices, a diet low in or devoid of animal products and high in phytate is almost ensuring a zinc deficiency if supplementation is not utilized.
It is important to know when addressing a zinc deficiency that zinc and copper balance each other out. Supplementing with or over consuming one can easily "throw off" the other, so care must be taken to ensure balance is maintained, ESPECIALLY when supplementing. If you are attempting to correct a clinical zinc deficiency with more than one symptom from the list above, please consult your doctor or seek the advice of a qualified naturopath. Supplements may not require a prescription, but they still alter body chemistry, and it is still unwise to self-dose if you are not adequately equipped with the knowledge of how to do so.
My first choice of supplement for "light" zinc deficiency (where a zinc deficiency is suspected, but not clinically confirmed through symptoms or lab work) is the Jarrow Zinc Balance (linked below). This is a great supplement, and provides a perfect amount of zinc to prevent deficiency from developing, as well as copper, to prevent imbalance from occurring.
So there you have it: a comprehensive look at zinc deficiency! Below is the product I mentioned above. Please keep in mind that you should ALWAYS consult your medical doctor prior to beginning any supplements, whether herbal or nutritional.
Stay tuned for next week's post: all about mineral deficiencies!
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DISCLAIMER: The statements made in this post and in any content provided by Dr. Anna Johnson and Anna's Organics Wellness are the opinions of the author only, and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. If you are experiencing symptoms of a medical problem, seek medical attention immediately or consult your physician for further guidance.