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What is zinc?

What is zinc?
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Zinc is a mineral that’s responsible for everything from your immune system to wound healing. In fact, taking in enough zinc on a regular basis is important because the body doesn’t store extra. People with gastrointestinal conditions, vegetarians and older adults are most at risk of being zinc deficient. Here’s everything you need to know about zinc and how to make sure you get enough of this important mineral.

Delayed or stunted growth

Delayed or stunted growth
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Some signs of zinc deficiency include not meeting certain growth standards and dysfunctions in the immune system, according to allergy and immunology doctor Boyan Hadjiev. He says studies following adolescent athletes, particularly gymnasts, have played a factor in understanding zinc deficiencies. “A combination of increased sweat loss with a decreased intake of certain foods” is something to look out for among athletes, says Dr Hadjiev, as these actions can contribute to zinc deficiency. High-zinc foods include seafood like oysters, lobster and crab; beef, chicken and pork; nuts like cashews and almonds; and legumes such as chickpeas and kidney beans.

Irritability

Irritability
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Low energy and depression, as well as conditions such as ADD and ADHD, have also been linked to zinc deficiencies, according to Dr Hadjiev. He says on average men and women should not consume more than 40 milligrams of zinc per day, but dosages vary based on age and whether you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Dietitian Lisa Moskovitz stresses eating a balanced diet to avoid a zinc deficiency. “A balanced diet, including plenty of vegetables, fresh fruit, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats is the ticket for nourishing your body and maintaining proper health,” she says.

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Slow wound healing

Slow wound healing
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Zinc, considered an ‘essential trace element’, plays many diverse roles in how the body functions. Slow wound healing is one potential sign of a zinc deficiency. “A patient doesn’t walk in the door and say ‘I have a zinc deficiency,’” Dr Hadjiev says. “You sort of have to figure it out. It’s subtle findings. There are so many different body systems that can be involved, so you have to be suspicious.”

Rough and dry skin

Rough and dry skin
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Experiencing skin conditions may also be a sign of zinc deficiency, particularly rashes. Moskovitz says if there are any suspicions you may be zinc deficient, you should consult your GP. Most of the symptoms of zinc deficiency are similar to other conditions. “The list of findings is very general. You can have abdominal pain, loss of hair, loss of appetite, delayed wound healing,” Dr Hadjiev says. “You can be depressed, you can have eczema or dermatitis, especially if it’s around the mouth or the anus.”

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Diarrhoea

Diarrhoea
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“You can have diarrhoea, which is a very common finding. It’s the most common finding,” Dr Hadjiev says. While symptoms vary for everyone, Moskovitz says that typically with a zinc deficiency, “you would experience the symptoms more often and continuously versus a sudden attack of nausea or diarrhoea.”

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Nausea

Nausea
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While nausea may be a symptom of a zinc deficiency, it may also be a sign of too much zinc as well. Overdoses would most likely occur from a zinc supplementation, Dr Hadjiev says. “If you eat a ton of oysters, every day, it is possible. But you need to eat a lot of darn oysters. It would be difficult to exceed [recommended zinc levels] on just food.” Moskovitz agrees that it is rare to experience zinc toxicity on food alone, but warns of greater dangers than nausea and diarrhoea, noting severe damage can be done to the stomach lining, and there is the risk of developing anaemia.

Appetite loss

Appetite loss
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Appetite loss can also come with impairments of smell and taste when you are not getting enough zinc. “You can have symptoms that mimic anorexia,” Dr Hadjiev says. “You can have symptoms that affect your mental function, including how you learn and how you perceive pleasure.” Hadjiev notes nervousness and difficulties concentrating as additional symptoms.

How to eat more zinc

How to eat more zinc
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Some of the tastiest foods are also rich in zinc. Zinc-rich foods include oysters, beef, lamb, pumpkin seeds, nuts, chicken, beans and cocoa products. Zinc is also added to many breakfast cereals. Moskovitz reminds us that the most important factor to consider is that all nutrients are best consumed through diet first. “This ensures your body is getting balanced, sufficient nutrition.” However, people who follow strict vegan diets or have food allergies or severe gastrointestinal disorders may benefit from a supplement to prevent zinc deficiency. Moskovitz says if you are considering taking supplements it is always best to consult a doctor first, in order to avoid unhealthy or unwanted side effects.

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Source: RD.com

  • Medically reviewed by Elisabetta Politi

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