©Katherine Poehlmann, PhD
Zinc is vitally important to healthy cell function. In 1990, zinc deficiency was seen by some nutritionists as an emerging public health crisis as we continue to deplete our soil of essential minerals.(1) Poor dietary habits compound the problem.
Zinc deficiency leads to various afflictions including schizophrenia, epilepsy, and other neuropsychiatric conditions, diabetes, prostate enlargement, eye problems, ulcers, immune system dysfunction, heart disease, brain and nervous system deterioration, poor digestion, food allergies, toxic metal accumulation, slow wound healing, osteoporosis, fatigue, eating disorders, skin problems, hearing impairment, and symptoms of blood sugar imbalance. (2)
Typical blood tests cannot give an accurate measure of a personís zinc status, but a simple taste test can. Put about two ounces of zinc sulfate heptahydrate (widely available in nutrition stores) in your mouth and swish it around. If you notice a bitter taste immediately you donít have a deficiency. However, if you taste nothing or have a delayed reaction, you should replenish your zinc level.
Calcium supplements and high calcium diets can reduce zinc absorption up to 50 percent. (3) †Zinc is quickly expelled from the body by stress and by exposure to toxic metals, pollutants, and pesticides. Based on the high incidence of zinc deficiency among the sick elderly, zinc supplements should be mandatory for all older adults. (4)
Treatment for neuropsychiatric disorders often reveals biochemical imbalances. Hearing internal voices, for instance, can be eliminated by supplements of zinc, manganese, and B vitamins. Zinc supplements may help to prevent Alzheimerís disease.
Zinc plays a crucial role in immune system strength. People with AIDS are almost always deficient. Restoring levels in doses of up to 100 mg daily has been found to stabilize immune function and reduce complications. (5)
Cancer develops more easily when zinc levels are low. Supplementation stimulates the manufacture of white blood cells, one of the immune systemís tumor-fighting components. (6)
Nearly all skin disorders, notably acne, improve with zinc supplementation. Note that results are not immediate, and may take weeks or months to observe.
Low zinc levels in pregnant women can lead to spontaneous abortion, toxemia, growth retardation, low birth weight, and delivery problems. (7)
Zinc levels are generally low in women who experience PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome). A deficiency may decrease the production of progesterone, which in turn may prompt cravings for sweet and salty foods. (8)
Benign prostate enlargement in men over 50 is strongly tied to years of inadequate zinc intake. The urge to urinate frequently is curtailed reliably with zinc, especially when used in combination with saw palmetto, essential fatty aids and amino acids. Zinc deficiency is tied to low testosterone levels. (9)
Applied directly, a zinc oxide paste speeds wound healing. Familiar calamine lotion derives its healing power from its rich zinc content. Zinc supplementation is essential before and after any surgical procedure.
Zinc works with antioxidants to maintain eye health and protect against blindness, macular degeneration, and cataracts.
Gastrointestinal problems such as Crohnís disease can be traced to a zinc deficiency.
Like Vitamins C and A, zinc attacks cold viruses in their early stages. Sucking on zinc lozenges at the first sign of a cold mitigates symptoms by more than 60 percent. (10)
Zinc has the ability to balance blood sugar by assisting the pancreas to manufacture insulin. For diabetics, zinc can also help lower high cholesterol. (11)
Rheumatoid arthritis sufferers are usually very depleted in zinc. Copper works together with zinc to restore proper functioning of the bodyís own COX-2 enzyme without prescription drugs. The zinc/copper ratio should be roughly eight to one. (2)
Zinc can help heal ulcers that may result from habitual use of anti-inflammatory drugs or antihistamines that reduce stomach acids. Taking acid-reducing medications runs the risk of deficiency, because zinc absorption relies on the stomachís hydrochloric acid. (13)
The recommended minimum daily dose is 15-25 mg. Let the zinc taste test be your guide. Gradually increase dosage until you can taste it, to a maximum of 150 mg. Liquid zinc sulfate heptahydrate is the best way to take the supplement, since it is readily absorbed, but zinc in capsule form is also effective.
Although zinc is considered safe, there are some cautions. Zinc competes for absorption with other minerals, notably copper, manganese, and iron. Taking more than 200 mg of zinc may lead to an imbalance in these minerals, and in turn to anemia and weight gain.
A qualified medical doctor, nutritionist, or naturopath can offer personalized guidance on appropriate supplementation. S/he will undoubtedly convince you to ďthinc zincĒ for good health.
(1) McClain, C.J., Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 1990; 9(5):545.
(2) Atkins, Robert C., M.D., Dr. Atkinsí Vita-Nutrient Solution, 1998, Fireside, New York, NY, pg. 132.
(3) Wood, R., et al., American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1997; 65:1803-09.
(4) Heimburger, D. C., et al., American Journal of Medicine, Jan. 1990; 88:71-73.
(5) Mochegiani, E., International Journal of Immunopharmacology, 1995; 7:719-27.
(6) Harden, J.W., International Journal of Immunopharmacology, 1995; 17:697-701.
(7) Goldenberg, B., et al., Journal of the American Medical Association, 1995; 274:463-68.
(8) Faver, A., Biological Trace Element Research, 1992; 32:363-82.
(9) Prasad, A.S., et al., Nutrition, 1996; 12:344-48.
(10) Mossad, S.B., et al., Annals of Internal Medicine, 1996 ; 125(2):81-88.
(11) Winterberg, B., et al., Trace Elements in Medicine, 1989; 6(4):173-77.
(12) Op cit, Atkins, pg 136.
(13) Sturniolo, G.C., et al., Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 1991; 4:372-75.
(14) Op cit, Atkins, pp 136-7.