Grow Youthful: How to Slow Your Aging and Enjoy Extraordinary Health
Grow Youthful: How to Slow Your Aging and Enjoy Extraordinary Health

Zinc

What is zinc?

Most people are zinc-deficient

Symptoms of zinc deficiency

Zinc excess

Tests for zinc deficiency

Food sources of zinc

How to supplement zinc

Zinc as a remedy / treatment

References

What is zinc?

Zinc is an essential element required to produce hundreds of enzymes that control functions as diverse as your eyesight, the health of your skin, hair, nails, connective tissue, hearing, sexual functions, digestion, immune response, protein synthesis and more. Without sufficient zinc, good health is impossible. (1)

Zinc works closely with several other minerals in your body, and it is important that they are all in balance with each other. Chromium, copper, iron, manganese, selenium and other minerals compete with each other for uptake in your digestive system, and if any are taken in excess they can inhibit the digestion of the others. Sulphur is another element that works with zinc, playing a crucial role in the digestive and immune systems.

Zinc generally has an anti-inflammatory effect, especially when it is in balance with copper and other more pro-inflammatory substances in the body.

Most people are low in zinc or zinc-deficient. The American Dietary Reference Intake for zinc is 8 mg / day for women and 11 mg / day for men. It is likely that this level is too low for optimal health. One in three Americans get less than this low amount. (2) If you are a vegetarian, you are even more at risk.

If you live in an area with zinc-rich soils, or you are getting plenty of seafood or organic meat, you will probably be getting sufficient zinc. However, most soils today are zinc and mineral-deficient, especially in West Australia where I live.

Most people are zinc-deficient

Symptoms of zinc deficiency

Zinc excess

In the natural world, excessive zinc in the body is most unusual. Monkeys locked in galvanised cages can suffer from zinc overload when they hold on to the zinc-galvanised bars for week after week. They lose fur, and have a variety of digestive, skin, eyesight and other problems (white monkey syndrome).

A zinc excess can occur if you take too much zinc supplement. When using the zinc taste test, it will taste unpleasant. Over a longer period, symptoms that appear similar to zinc deficiency will often occur, as the overload will often affect the same enzymes.

Symptoms of zinc overdose may include prostatitis, vision problems, skin problems and more. Emotional symptoms can also occur, though less frequently. Yeast and fungal ailments may worsen, because zinc seems to be the most important of all minerals in promoting fungal growth.

Zinc may be toxic in excess of 40 mg elemental zinc per day. (2) One reason is that high levels of zinc induce copper deficiency. Zinc and copper are needed together, but are also antagonists to each other.

Tests for zinc deficiency

The quickest and easiest test for zinc sufficiency is a zinc taste test. For an adult, mix 50 mg of zinc sulphate in half a glass of water. If it tastes sweet, pleasant, or like water, then your body needs it. If it has a strong metallic or unpleasant taste, you don't need it and are not zinc-deficient.

Blood serum blood tests for zinc are generally useless because zinc does not accumulate in the blood.

A test for white blood cell zinc levels is not very reliable.

Zinc in urine and faeces shows what was consumed in the last few meals rather than zinc levels in the body.

A hair test for zinc is not very reliable, and needs an expert to interpret the results.

Sodium and potassium levels in the hair, copper sufficiency and the body type of the patient all need to be taken into account.

Food sources of zinc

The best way to get zinc is through your food.

Oysters are by far the richest source of zinc. Next comes red meat - beef, lamb, game meat and other red meats. Other molluscs like mussels are also a good source. Zinc is also found in pork, crustaceans (lobster, shrimp etc), poultry (chicken, turkey etc), fish, strong cheese (like parmesan) and egg yolks. Most animal-based foods contain some level of zinc.

Plants generally do not need much zinc for their own growth and health, so plant-based foods generally contain very little zinc. Pumpkin seeds and sea vegetables such as kelp and dulse are the best plant sources. Most tree nuts also contain some zinc, depending upon the mineral quality of the soil in which they are grown. A few legumes, headed by aduki beans, also contain a small amount of zinc.

Vegetarians are even more deficient in zinc than most other people, because it is difficult to obtain sufficient zinc from vegetables, fruits, nuts, pulses, seeds and other vegetarian foods.

How to supplement zinc

Buy zinc sulphate as a liquid. It should simply be zinc sulphate, not zinc compounds in other forms. It is acceptable to have a small quantity of magnesium chloride added, and possibly pyridoxine hydrochloride, but preferably nothing else.

Follow the supplier's instructions, or for an adult, mix 50 mg of zinc sulphate in half a glass of water, and take it before going to bed. It will help you sleep well and have lucid, pleasant dreams.

50 mg of zinc sulphate is the equivalent of 11 mg of elemental zinc. Most people who regularly eat red meat get 10-20 mg of elemental zinc per day from their food. If you need to supplement, experience of many users has shown that approximately 10-15 mg of elemental zinc per day is suitable for the average adult. Experiment, varying the dose slightly for a week at a time, to find what suits you for your particular body and conditions.

Zinc sulphate is stable, it should not have a short use-by date.

My experience is that zinc sulphate in liquid form is much more effective than zinc tablets which are often useless.

Zinc as a remedy / treatment

Ensuring zinc sufficiency can be the key to treating many of the ailments discussed on this page.

Pyroluria. About 10 - 15% of adults suffer from this condition, in which zinc and vitamin B6 are excreted in the urine. Pyroluriacs need to supplement with zinc and B6 for the rest of their lives, and need higher levels of supplementation than other people. This treatment is usually dramatically successful.

Gilbert's syndrome. I have found that zinc sulphate is helpful in controlling the symptoms of Gilbert's syndrome.

References

1. Hambidge M. Human zinc deficiency. J Nutr. May 2000; 130(5S Suppl):1344S-9S. Article

2. Zinc, Dietary Reference Intakes for vitamin A, vitamin K, boron, chromium, copper, iodine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, silicon, vanadium and zinc. Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine. Washington DC, National Academy Press; 2001:442-501.

3. Alissa EM et al. The effects of coadministration of dietary copper and zinc supplements on atherosclerosis, antioxidant enzymes and indices of lipid peroxidation in the cholesterol fed rabbit. Int J Exp Pathol. Oct 2004; 85(5):265-75.

4. Lulloff SJ et al. Fungal susceptability to zinc deprivation. J Lab Clin Med. Oct 2004; 144(4):208-14.