Zinc is one of the most interesting and fascinating minerals needed in our bodies. It is required for hundreds of enzymes that control functions as diverse as vision, hearing, health of the skin, hair, nails, connective tissue, sexual function, digestion, immune response, and more.
Zinc is also involved in protein synthesis, a vital function, where it is required for several key enzymes in RNA and DNA synthesis such as RNA transferase.
Few good sources of bioavailable zinc exist today for very important reasons:
Salt. Natural sea salt provides a little zinc. However, the zinc and other trace minerals are removed from refined “table salt”. This is one reason table salt is a very poor quality food.
Frozen food. Some foods, especially frozen vegetables and perhaps meats, are sprayed with EDTA to retain their color. This chemical removes some zinc and other minerals from the food, making it even more zinc deficient. The spraying is done to cause the food to retain its color.
For example, diabetics need much more zinc. Also, low zinc in boys around the age of puberty is one reason they do not grow tall as fast as the girls at that age. Later, the boys catch up, but the boys are using their zinc to develop the prostate gland and testicles, and there is insufficient zinc to enable them to grow taller at that age, in many cases. This is so common it is considered normal today.
White spots on the fingernails may occur during stressful times and are an indication of significant zinc deficiency.
SYMPTOMS OF ZINC DEFICIENCY
Skin. These include stretch marks on the skin, white spots on the fingernails, and varicose veins. Most cases of acne, dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis, boils, vitiligo, and other skin infections often involve zinc deficiencies.
Young women experience more acne and other skin problems at certain times of the month because their period regulates zinc and copper levels. When copper is higher than zinc, acne develops in many cases and is a symptom of a need for zinc and other minerals, as well.
Yeast conditions. Zinc is critical for the immune response, and zinc opposes or antagonizes too much copper in the body. For these reasons, a low tissue zinc level is associated with development of fungus and yeast conditions anywhere in the body.
Menstrual and Female Reproductive Difficulties. Most menstrual irregularities such as premenstrual tension, estrogen dominance and others are related to zinc imbalance. Zinc has a moderating effect on these health conditions that is sometimes remarkable.
Other reproductive conditions involving zinc include cessation of the period in younger women, infertility, irritability and cramping associated with menstruation.
Zinc and pregnancy. Too much zinc given during pregnancy can rarely induce a miscarriage, so be careful with zinc during pregnancy. A miscarriage could occur if too much zinc lowers copper excessively, which affects the estrogen level. Most pregnant women can safely take 20 mg of a zinc supplement, especially if they take some copper, as well. Some pregnant women need much more than this, but some do not.
Birth defects, growth And Development Of The Fetus. Zinc is critical for growth and development, both in the womb and after birth. Zinc deficiency is strongly associated with birth defects of many kinds.
Zinc deficiency is one of the main causes of a doubling or more of the birth defect rate in most Western nations, compared to 100 years ago.
Zinc deficiency is almost always a factor in developmental delays, learning disorders, autism, and other developmental problems. Short stature, delayed testicular development, undescended testicles, and other growth problems often have zinc as a part or the entirety of the cause.
Male Reproductive System. The prostate gland accumulates zinc more than any other tissue of the body. Seminal fluid or sperm contains significant quantities of zinc. Most male reproductive and prostate problems have zinc deficiency as part or as all of the cause.
These conditions may include prostatitis, enlarged prostate, prostate cancer and other metabolic conditions related to male infertility. They also include erectile dysfunction and some male hormone imbalances such as low testosterone and perhaps other hormone-related conditions in men.
Vision. Zinc deficiency is involved in most vision problems. Macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa and night blindness, iritis and other infections are among them. Eye doctors are about the only medical specialty that regularly supplements patients with zinc.
The retina of the eye is one of the richest tissues in zinc in the human body and one of the tissues most dependent on zinc, along with the male prostate gland and the intestines.
The Brain. Zinc is thought to be a calming neurotransmitter in its own right. Symptoms of zinc problems include hyperactivity, ADD and ADHD, anxiety, irritability, nervousness, emotional instability, mood swings, bipolar disorder and many other mental and emotional symptoms. Conditions such as epilepsy, seizures, schizophrenia and other severe emotional disturbances often have zinc deficiency as a part of their cause. Zinc is considered a “sedative mineral” due to its effect on the central nervous system.
Zinc is also required for higher mental functioning and for mental development of the neocortex or new brain.
The Immune Response. Zinc is critical for this area of functioning, both in humans and in animals. It is helpful to prevent all infections and to treat skin infections and others. Those with AIDS, in particular, often benefit from zinc supplementation. Vegetarians often develop more infections because their zinc levels tend to be much lower.
Zinc is often given for colds, flu and many acute infections as it is generally helpful for these problems. It works closely with copper in the immune response.
Digestive system. Zinc is extremely important here. It is required for all digestive enzyme production. It is also required to rebuild the fast-growing intestinal tissue, and for the production of bile, and liver and pancreatic secretions. Ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, yeast infections, colitis, and many other digestive problems often have to do with low zinc.
Cardiovascular system. Zinc is required to give flexibility to the arteries and veins. Common deficiency symptoms include hardening of the arteries, high blood pressure, aneurysms, strokes, heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems.
Surgery and wound healing. Taking zinc before surgery can be most helpful to prevent complications such as infections, and perhaps even adhesions. Zinc is also required for wound healing, so it may help speed healing and prevent scarring, as well.
Other. Zinc is essential for all connective tissue. Symptoms of imbalance or deficiency include problems with tendons and ligaments such as tendonitis, bursitis and, in particular, inflammatory symptoms. Zinc is a highly anti-inflammatory mineral needed to balance copper and other more pro-inflammatory substances in the body.
ZINC TOXICITY SYMPTOMS
Too much zinc is rare if one obtains one’s zinc from food. If, however, one takes too much zinc in supplement form, symptoms of zinc overdose can occur. They may include prostatitis, vision problems, skin difficulties and more. Emotional symptoms may also occur, but are less likely.
The cause for these symptoms appears to be copper depletion due to excessive zinc intake. Interestingly, the symptoms appear very similar to zinc deficiency.
The remedy for the problem is to stop taking zinc and increase copper intake for a few days to a few weeks. This usually causes symptoms to clear rapidly.
IDENTIFYING ZINC DEFICIENCY
There are several ways to assess zinc status in the body.
Blood. Serum blood tests are useless, in general, as zinc does not accumulate in the blood serum.
A few holistic doctors use white blood cell zinc levels to assess total body zinc. This provides some information. However, it is not too reliable.
Urine and feces. These methods of assessing zinc are not considered reliable because they depend too much on the last day’s meals, for example, and other factors such as absorption of dietary zinc.
HAIR MINERAL ANALYSIS AND ZINC
The level of zinc in a human or animal hair sample depends upon many factors. It is an important mineral to measure in the hair. However, it does not necessarily reflect the total body load of zinc.
Dr. Paul Eck found that the sodium/potassium ratio on a properly performed hair mineral analysis is the best way to assess the need for zinc. He also recommended extra zinc in some instances.
Also, at times, a low hair zinc is caused by the body attempting to defend or compensate for a low sodium level or a low sodium/potassium ratio.
Elevated hair zinc. A hair zinc level greater than about 16 mg% is due, in our experience, to the presence of toxic metals, usually copper. The body may use zinc in some way to protect the body from the ravages of the other toxic metal.
An elevated hair zinc is rarely due to excess zinc in the body unless one uses Head And Shoulders shampoo or some other zinc-containing hair or skin product. While the hair level is high, this does not mean the body is too high in zinc. The zinc is basically on the scalp and skin, not all throughout the body.
Zinc toxicity is rare, and could occur due to occupational or some other exposure. This only occurs in zinc miners and others who are exposed to large amounts of zinc ore and zinc dust. There is simply not excessive zinc in the soil, the food, the air, water and other common places that overload would occur easily.
RELATIONSHIPS TO OTHER NUTRIENTS
Calcium, magnesium and zinc – the sedative minerals. Zinc, along with calcium and magnesium, are called sedatives because all three help inhibit excessive sympathetic nervous system activity. They all inhibit excessive brain activity. Zinc, in fact, is considered by some authorities to be a calming neurotransmitter in its own right.
Zinc tends to lower hair sodium levels. This is part of the complex mineral system of the body in which every mineral affects the level of other minerals in unique ways. This does not tend to affect serum levels, as these are regulated differently than the tissue levels of most minerals.
Zinc may raise or lower the hair calcium depending on the situation. In slow oxidizers, it powerfully helps lower calcium by helping to restore adrenal activity. Excessive zinc, however, may raise hair calcium by lowering sodium excessively.
In fast oxidizers, zinc has a parasympathetic effect that can help raise a low tissue calcium and balance elevated tissue sodium and potassium levels. Thus, overall, zinc tends to balance hair tissue calcium levels, just as it often balances potassium levels as well.
Zinc raises potassium in a slow oxidizer and tends to lower it in fast oxidizers. When the hair potassium level is low, taking zinc is far more effective in helping to raise it than taking potassium.
In fast oxidizers, zinc helps to slow the oxidation rate. Therefore, it tends to reduce the hair sodium and potassium levels in a fast oxidizer. In this regard, zinc functions as an adaptogen element, which means that it tends to balance both a high or a low calcium level.
Zinc and the other trace minerals. This becomes complex. Basically, zinc can inhibit the absorption of the other trace minerals such as manganese, chromium and others. This is due to “competitive inhibition” at the level of the intestines.
This means that the same transporters that adsorb zinc through the intestines are used by the body to adsorb the other trace minerals. Therefore, taking extra zinc may inhibit the adsorption of the others.
However, zinc is synergistic or synergetic with many other trace minerals such as selenium, chromium and others at other levels of metabolism. In other words, having enough zinc present helps these other minerals to be used properly, including even copper. They work well together at certain functions in the body such as energy production in the Krebs cycle and specifically the electron transport system.
Vitamin A. Vitamin A is synergistic with zinc. They both tend to lower the sodium level on a hair mineral test, and they both are very helpful for the immune response.
A HIGH ZINC PERSONALITY
This is not too common. Those with high zinc tend to be less emotional, a bit cold or harsh, perhaps, very analytical, and kind underneath.
ZINC AS A “MALE” MINERAL
Zinc is considered a “male” mineraL for several reasons. It is required by both men and women. However, it is considered more essential for men, especially in the prostate gland.
Zinc also confers certain qualities on the personality that are considered more “male” qualities. These are subdued emotions, a more analytical tendency rather than an emotional one, and a very balanced mental outlook. This is also why zinc is called the “gentle strength” mineral.
Zinc also has qualities that are sometimes described as an adaptogen. This means that it tends to balance things out in several directions. While needed by both men and women in all cases, this is also considered a more “male” quality of this mineral.