One epidemic that most folks in the U.S. are probably unaware of is zinc deficiency. A significant problem for most countries in the world, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that the global prevalence of zinc deficiency is 31 percent. (1)
Living in our American bubble of fortified foods and multivitamin supplements at virtually every supermarket in the country, we are generally out of touch with global health problems that affect literally millions every day.
However, we often do not realize that just because we are eating foods with added nutrition doesn’t mean that our bodies are absorbing it, and there are many zinc deficiency risk factors right here in the U.S.. Even people living in developed, industrial nations aren’t immune to zinc deficiency.
Zinc Deficiency Worldwide
Ranked as the fifth leading risk factor in causing disease worldwide, underdeveloped nations regularly suffer from high mortality rates because of the connection that zinc deficiency has with childhood diarrhea and pneumonia. (2)
Zinc deficiency is such a serious global problem that 176,000 diarrhea deaths, 406,000 pneumonia deaths and 207,000 malaria deaths are caused by it; primarily in Africa, the Eastern Mediterranean and South-East Asia.
Everyone, young and old, requires regular zinc intake to remain alive, which is why it is referred to as an “essential” trace element. Even plants and animals need it to survive! Present in every cell, organ, bone, tissue, and fluid in our bodies zinc is especially prominent in the male prostate gland and semen.
Although severe zinc deficiency is quite rare, the Linus Pauling Institute estimates that up to 2 billion people are affected by marginal zinc levels, which can affect virtually every aspect of your health. (3) The recommended daily intakes for people are: (4)
Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for Zinc (5)
* Adequate Intake (AI)
It’s important to note that, because the developing fetus and infant require zinc, pregnant and lactating women should consciously increase their zinc intake so that their babies will not suffer any harm.
These numbers above are the daily intake for a regular maintenance levels for zinc. If you are treating a zinc deficiency, then I recommend taking 30 mg of zinc per day for 90 days. Also make sure to include a daily supplement that contains copper over this time frame. Zinc taken for longer periods can deplete your copper levels.
Zinc Deficiency Symptoms
Unfortunately, millions of people are zinc deficient and are completely unaware of their condition. Thankfully, if you keep a look out for some key indicators, you can catch it early before things turn sour fast. The seven most common zinc deficiency symptoms that you should be aware of include:
1. Poor Neurological Function
Absolutely essential for growth and neuropsychologic performance, low zinc levels have been connected with attention and motor disorders in infants that persist well into adulthood. (3, 6) A Chinese study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition discovered that a zinc supplement providing just 50% of the recommended daily allowance improved attention.
But don’t run out and pump your kids full of zinc just yet! (6) The research found that zinc is best absorbed with a proper balance of other nutrients, as found in whole foods, which is why it is so important to contact your natural health care physician for some much needed guidance should you suspect a zinc deficiency.
2. Weak Immunity
Zinc is also absolutely essential to maintain immune function. (7) Specifically, it is vital for:
- T-cell growth and differentiation into the white blood cells that we need to ward off disease.
- Apoptosis (“programmed cell death”) to kill dangerous bacteria, virus and cancer cells.
- Gene transcription, the first step of gene expression.
- Protective functions of our cell membranes.
Zinc is also a key structural component for a slew of hormone receptors and proteins that contribute to healthy, balance mood and immune function.
Most likely due to the impaired immunity that is caused by zinc deficience infectious, persistent diarrhea is a major public health concern. Affecting nearly 2 million children in developing countries every year, these children become more susceptible to coli and other bacterial infections. (8) Zinc supplementation, however, has only been found effective at treating babies older than 6 months. (9) So, be sure to consult with your pediatrician before giving zinc to your infant.
4. Allergies: Food & Environment
Chronic stress causes adrenal fatigue and can lead to calcium, magnesium and zinc deficiency; which contributes to elevated histamine levels. (10) Zinc is a key factor in how your body stores histamine.
So, since it is required to store histamine, zinc deficiency allows more histamine to be released into the surrounding tissue fluids. This is important for two reasons:
- Excess histamine in your body will produce many of the common symptoms associated with allergies (running nose, sneezing, hives, etc.)
- High histamine levels increase one’s sensitivity to all allergic reactions
5. Thinning Hair
A common complaint of people battling adrenal fatigue, zinc deficiency is associated with hypothyroidism, an overlooked cause of thinning hair and alopecia. (11) According to Indian researchers, thyroid hormones are essential for zinc absorption. Subsequently, hypothyroidism-caused hair loss may not improve with thyroxine unless zinc supplements are added. (11)
6. Leaky Gut
First described over 70 years ago, the gut-skin connection describes how leaky gut (“intestinal permeability”) can cause a slew of health conditions including: nutrient malabsorption, skin disorders, allergies, auto-immune disease, and thyroid problems. Shown clinically to help resolve permeability alterations, zinc supplementation can actually “tighten” leaky gut in Crohn’s patients. (12)
7. Acne or rashes
Zinc Deficiency Risk Factors
Are you at risk? The people with the following health conditions are most susceptible to zinc deficiency. (13)
- Alcoholism: Linked to poor zinc absorption, a history of long-term, excessive alcohol use puts people at a considerable risk of developing zinc deficiency.
- Diabetes: Most doctors agree that diabetics should use zinc products cautiously because large doses can dangerously lower blood sugar.
- Hemodialysis: Hemodialysis patients are also at risk for zinc deficiency and might require zinc supplements.
- HIV (human immunodeficiency virus)/AIDS: Linked to shorter lifespans, zinc should be cautiously in HIV/AIDS patients.
- Nutrient absorption syndromes: Malabsorption syndromes put people at a greater risk of zinc deficiency.
- Rheumatoid arthritis: RA patients absorb less zinc and may require supplementation.
Not as prevalent, the Linus Pauling Institute reports that these people are also at risk: (3)
- Premature and low-birth-weight infants
- Older breast-fed infants and toddlers with inadequate intake of zinc-rich foods.
- Pregnant and lactating (breast-feeding) women.
- Patients receiving intravenous feedings.
- Malnourished individuals, including anorexics and bulimics.
- Individuals with severe or persistent diarrhea
- Individuals with inflammatory bowel disease.
- Individuals with chronic renal disease
- Individuals with sickle cell anemia.
- Individuals who use medications including tetracycline and quinolone antibiotics as well as bisphosphonates, may decrease absorption of both zinc and the medication, potentially reducing drug efficacy.
- Older adults (65 years and older).
- Strict vegetarians: The requirement for dietary zinc may be as much as 50% greater for strict vegetarians whose major food staples are grains and legumes, because high levels of phytic acid in these foods reduce zinc absorption
Top 10 Zinc Foods
If you think you might be suffering from zinc deficiency, and you want to improve your levels quickly, you may consider taking an all-natural supplement. Supplements generally contain several forms of zinc, including zinc acetate, zinc gluconate, and zinc sulfate. The percentage of elemental zinc varies by form. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), “Research has not determined whether differences exist among forms of zinc in absorption, bioavailability, or tolerability,” so it’s important to regularly consume these top 10 high zinc foods: (4)
1. Pumpkin seeds – 1/2 cup: 8.4 mg (57% DV)
2. Grass-fed Beef – 4 oz: 5.2 mg (32% DV)
3. Lamb – 4 oz: 5.2 mg (32% DV)
4. Cashews – 1/2 cup: 3.8 mg (25% DV)
5. Chickpeas (Garbanzo beans) – 1 cup cooked: 2.5 mg (17% DV)
6. Mushrooms – 1 cup cooked: 1.9 mg (13% DV)
7. Chicken – 4 oz: 1.6 mg (12% DV)
8. Kefir or Yogurt – 1 cup: 1.4 mg (10% DV)
9. Spinach – 1 cup cooked: 1.4 mg (9% DV)
10. Cocoa powder – 1 Tbsp: 0.4 mg (2% DV)
Zinc Side Effects
Most health authorities agree that is LIKELY UNSAFE to consume elevated amounts of zinc for extended periods of time. (14) Doing so can cause coughing, fatigue, fever, stomach pain, and a number of other health problems. Some sources even claim that,
“Taking more than 100 mg of supplemental zinc daily or taking supplemental zinc for 10 or more years doubles the risk of developing prostate cancer. There is also concern that taking large amounts of a multivitamin plus a separate zinc supplement increases the chance of dying from prostate cancer!” (14)
Regularly taking 450 mg or more of zinc each day has also been known to affect the level of iron in your blood. Also, here are some key recommendations for women:
- Pregnant women over 18 should limit their zinc intake to 40 mg per day
- Pregnant women under 18 should limit their zinc intake to 34 mg per day
- Breast-feeding women over 18 should limit their zinc intake to 40 mg per day
- Breast-feeding women under 18 should limit their zinc intake to 34 mg per day
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