The mineral zinc is the second most common trace element in the human body, right after iron, and is involved in more than 300 different metabolic processes, which quickly makes it clear that a zinc deficiency can have serious consequences and health problems.
Zinc must be ingested through food because the human body cannot produce it itself.
For this reason, it is an essential trace element, the lack of white spots on the fingernails can be recognized quite quickly and clearly.
In the case of autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis in particular , supplementing with zinc via dietary supplements makes sense, since this trace element plays a central role in the immune system and in the metabolism of thyroid hormones.
Adults store around 2 grams of zinc in their bodies. Around 70% of it is stored in bones, hair and skin. However, nowadays our body has great difficulty in replenishing its zinc stores through food. There are mutliple reasons for this.
Some reasons for a zinc deficiency
On the one hand, modern farming and depleted soils are leading to increasingly nutrient-poor foods.
On the other hand, our modern diet, which consists mainly of foods containing wheat, is shifting towards a significantly higher copper intake and lower zinc intake. But alcohol and cigarette consumption, as well as chronic diseases, quickly lead to zinc deficits.
Since zinc and copper are opponents (antagonists), it is the case with a zinc deficiency that copper first accumulates in the blood and later in the organs. In the severe form of zinc deficiency, this imbalance between the two metals leads to copper toxicity.
Copper toxicity (not Wilson’s disease), in which excess copper is stored in the liver and other organs and causes marked symptoms of heavy metal poisoning, is becoming more common these days, but is diagnosed only extremely rarely.
What role does zinc play in the human body?
The main task of zinc is to activate an almost unmanageable number of proteins in the body, which are converted into enzymes and hormones.
The thyroid needs these proteins to produce the thyroid hormones triiodothyronine and thyroxine. The pancreas needs the proteins to produce insulin.
In addition, the proteins are also required for various sex and growth hormones. Among other things, zinc is also indispensable for the following processes in the human body:
- Essential in cell division
- Important for the acid-base balance
- Important for a functioning immune system
- Protects cells from oxidative stress
- Important for the maintenance of skin, hair and nail structures
- Important for maintaining eyesight
- Important for vitamin A metabolism
- Important for carbohydrate metabolism
- Important for fatty acid metabolism
- Important for protein synthesis
- Important for normal and functioning fertility
- Regulates DNA synthesis
- Protects cells from oxidative stress caused by free radicals
- Protects cells from heavy metals
Who is affected by a zinc deficiency?
If the body is not able to absorb enough zinc from food, perhaps because of an intestinal disease such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, a zinc deficiency develops over time.
However, a zinc deficiency can also occur due to unbalanced malnutrition, during pregnancy , in patients with autoimmune diseases, cancer, chronic inflammation and diabetes mellitus.
However, children and young people who are still growing are also particularly often affected. Zinc requirements are increased during growth and most adolescents neglect a healthy diet during this phase.
The HPU / KPU also requires a high zinc intake. However, these amounts can usually no longer be supplied through food, so that only the route through dietary supplements promises success.
Last but not least, there are the smokers and people who celebrate an excessive lifestyle with lots of alcohol, an unbalanced diet and little sleep. These usually show significantly reduced zinc levels in whole blood.
Typical symptoms of zinc deficiency
In the case of a zinc deficiency, the function of the immune system is primarily disrupted, which opens the door to many other diseases.
A disturbed sense of taste and smell as well as wound healing disorders, severe hair loss, severe tiredness and skin problems are also very typical. In addition, many patients report the following symptoms of severe zinc deficiency:
- difficulty concentrating
- loss of appetite
- weight loss
- Hair loss and premature graying of the hair on the head and beard
- brittle nails with white spots
- Acne, bad and impure skin
- poor wound healing
- increased susceptibility to infection
- growth disorders in children
- disturbed fertility and weak libido
How to diagnose zinc deficiency?
First of all, it is important to observe yourself and see if any of the above symptoms are already present.
Striking problems with short-term memory, low energy, severe hair loss, reduced libido, a weak immune system and sudden eczema or skin inflammation are among the classic symptoms.
But at the latest when there are white spots on the fingernails, it quickly becomes clear that there is a not inconsiderable zinc deficiency.
Measure blood zinc levels in whole blood
The next step would be to have your blood or urine zinc levels checked. However, it is important to have whole blood (EDTA/heparin) and not serum measured during a blood test. This measurement is much more reliable and meaningful.
If the zinc value in the serum is still within the norm, a whole blood analysis shows that a deficiency has usually existed for a long time.
The IMD laboratory in Berlin explains this as follows:
The mineral analysis in the lysed heparin or EDTA whole blood simultaneously determines the cellular bound metals as well as the free localized metals in the serum. Since metals such as potassium, zinc, magnesium, selenium or copper are mainly “stored” intracellularly, only whole blood mineral analysis allows an optimal assessment of the trace element balance.
It is advisable to have copper included in a zinc whole blood analysis at the same time. Both blood values considered in combination, usually give much more information about the balance of both metals to each other and at 18.35 EUR are usually still affordable for private payers.
Zinc taste test according to Bryce-Smith and Simpson with zinc sulphate
The medical journal “The Lancet” first reported that it was possible to detect a zinc deficiency using simple means. Professor D.Bryce-Smith and RI. Simpson developed a quick method of detecting a possible zinc deficiency by mixing simple zinc sulfate from the pharmacy with distilled water to form a solution and administering it to test subjects.
Depending on what the subject tasted, it gave information about his zinc status. If the solution only tasted like water to the test person, a severe zinc deficiency could be assumed.
If the solution immediately tasted very unpleasant and had a long-lasting metallic taste, this indicated an adequate supply of zinc.
Instructions: This is how the taste test can be carried out quickly:
The 0.1% test solution can be easily mixed from 1g of commercially available zinc sulphate (pharmacy) and 1 liter of distilled water. Ideally, you should not eat, smoke or drink anything other than water for at least half an hour before the test.
Then take a sip (5-10ml) of the test solution in your mouth and rinse it back and forth in your mouth for about 10-15 seconds like you would a wine tasting. The solution can then be swallowed or spat out.
- If the solution does not taste like anything or only tastes like water , you can assume a severe zinc deficiency. In this case, the medical professionals mentioned above administer up to 150 mg of zinc per day to their patients.
- If the solution initially tastes like nothing or just water, but changes its taste after about 15 seconds to become bland, furry and sweet , a moderate zinc deficiency can be assumed. In this case, the medical professionals mentioned above administer up to 100 mg of zinc per day to their patients.
- If the solution tastes bland, furry and sweet immediately after ingestion and increases in intensity over the next few seconds , you can assume that the zinc supply is good. In this case, the medical professionals mentioned above administer up to 50 mg of zinc per day to their patients.
- If the solution tastes strongly metallic and disgusting immediately after ingestion , one can assume an optimal supply of zinc. In this case, the doctors mentioned above recommend their patients a constant maintenance dose of 15-25 mg zinc per day and only increase the dose in the meantime if there is a lot of stress and sport .
Which foods contain a lot of zinc?
In order to be able to guarantee an adequate zinc supply, it is necessary to take in enough zinc daily through food. Normally, adults need about 10mg of zinc per day to be adequately supplied. This can be achieved with a conscious diet .
However, there are exceptions such as pregnancy or diseases such as HPU / KPU, where a sufficient supply of zinc from food is not possible. In these cases, zinc must be used in the form of dietary supplements.
In nature, there are different types of zinc. On the one hand, zinc is contained in various plant foods, but on the other hand also in animal foods.
Both variants are good for the human body, but the zinc from animal sources can be better absorbed and processed.
This is also the reason why vegetarians and vegans suffer from zinc deficiency if they do not consume large amounts of plant foods rich in zinc.
Here is a short list of foods that contain a lot of high-quality zinc and whose consumption makes sense in the case of zinc deficiency:
- Meat : roast beef, fillet, muscle meat, venison, wild boar, turkey, duck, goose, liver and kidney
- Fish : eel, carp, pike, trout, salmon, herring, catfish, sole, plaice, mackerel, flounder, pollock, halibut and cod
- Other seafood : oysters, shrimp, mussels, lobster and caviar
- Nuts and seeds : Poppy seeds, Brazil nuts, cashews, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts and sunflower seeds
- Dairy products : condensed milk, cream, low-fat yoghurt, feta, quark, Emmental, Edam, Gouda, Chester, Camembert and Parmesan
- Eggs : organic eggs, egg yolks and egg whites
- Cereals : Oatmeal, Wheat Bran, Wheat Grain, Wheat Germ, Amaranth, Millet, Rye Grain, Spelled Grain, Barley Grain, Buckwheat, Quinoa, Corn and Rice
- Pasta : Crispbread, wholemeal wheat bread, wholemeal rye bread and mixed wheat bread
- Fruits : Dried figs, passion fruit, apricots, dates, raspberries, strawberries, bananas, apples, and oranges
- Vegetables and Spices : Horseradish, green peas, parsnip, avocado, spinach, garlic, Brussels sprouts, chives and broccoli
- Mushrooms : porcini, oyster mushroom, chanterelle and button mushroom
- Other : honey, milk chocolate, cocoa powder, black tea, brewer’s yeast and baker’s yeast
Replenish zinc stores with dietary supplements
If you develop a zinc deficiency due to improper diet or poor quality food, zinc-containing foods are usually not enough to remedy a zinc deficiency.
In this case and due to diseases such as HPU / KPU, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Crohn’s disease, there is usually no way around additional, high-dose support with dietary supplements.
But nutritional supplements are not just nutritional supplements. It is always worth taking a look at the composition and the bioavailability. Zinc picolinate and zinc gluconate can only be recommended for zinc.
Both forms are excellent for replenishing zinc stores and are effectively absorbed by the body. In addition, zinc picolinate is also affordable and can be financially supported in the long term.
But zinc orotate is also readily bioavailable and is well absorbed by the body. Zincorotate is available under the name zincorot with mostly 25mg per dosage.
But beware ! The proportion of elementary zinc in this variant is well below the information on the front of the pack. Please note the composition on the back of the pack.
Furthermore, it should be ensured that the desired zinc preparation is free of magnesium stearates.
Magnesium stearate is unfortunately added to the majority of all dietary supplements these days in order to speed up the production process of the capsules and to prevent the capsules from sticking to machine parts.
Unfortunately, magnesium stearate is now known to largely negate the effect of the supplement itself and to clog the intestines, further preventing the absorption of nutrients. So keep your hands off such dietary supplements!
The role of zinc in heavy metal pollution
Last but not least, it should not go unmentioned that zinc displaces and mobilizes other heavy metals in the body. This applies to mercury, lead, copper and many other heavy metals. This is especially important to know if your condition deteriorates after taking zinc.
Many people then think that they cannot tolerate zinc, which is a fallacy. If your condition worsens after taking zinc, you can only assume that you are burdened with heavy metals and that these heavy metals are displaced by zinc into the bloodstream and, ideally, are excreted via the liver, bile acid and the intestines.
In such a case, you should read up on the subject of heavy metal elimination.