Zinc | An essential trace element with countless responsibilities

Zinc is the second most abundant trace element in the human body, directly behind iron, involved in more than 300 different metabolic processes, which quickly make it clear that zinc deficiency can cause serious consequences and health problems.

Zinc needs to be absorbed through food as the human body can not produce zinc by itself. For this reason, the zinc is an essential trace element, whose lack can be recognized quite quickly of white spots on the fingernails.

Especially in autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis an additional dietary supplement of zinc makes sense, as this trace element plays a central role in the immune system and in the metabolism of thyroid hormones.

Adult people store about 2 grams of zinc in the body. Of which about 70% are embedded in bones, hair and the skin. But today our bodies have big trouble with filling up their zinc stores through food. There are multiple reasons for this. On the one hand, modern agriculture and leached soils lead to nutrient-poor foods. On the other hand, our modern nutrition, which mainly consists of wheat-containing foods, shifts to a significantly higher copper intake and lower zinc intake. But also alcohol and cigarette consumption, as well as chronic diseases, quickly cause zinc deficiencies.

Since zinc and copper are antagonists, in a zinc deficiency, copper first accumulates in the blood and later in the organs. In the pronounced 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 significant heavy metal poisoning symptoms, nowadays is really common but rarely diagnosed.

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 gland needs these proteins for the production of the thyroid hormones triiodothyronine and thyroxine. The pancreas needs the proteins to produce insulin. In addition, the proteins are also needed for various sexual and growth hormones. Among other things, zinc is also indispensable in the following processes in the human body:

  1. Essential in cell division
  2. Important for acid-base balance
  3. Important for a functioning immune system
  4. Protects the cells from oxidative stress
  5. Important for the maintenance of skin, hair and nail structures
  6. Important for the preservation of vision
  7. Important for vitamin A metabolism
  8. Important for carbohydrate metabolism
  9. Important for fatty acid metabolism
  10. Important for protein synthesis
  11. Important for normal and functioning fertility
  12. Regulates DNA synthesis
  13. Protects cells from oxidative stress by free radicals
  14. Protects cells from heavy metals

Who is affected by a zinc deficiency?

If the body is unable to ingest enough zinc from the food because of a bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, zinc deficiency will develop over time. But zinc deficiency can occur also  due to one-sided malnutrition, during pregnancy, in patients with autoimmune diseases, cancer, chronic inflammation and diabetes mellitus.

But also children and adolescents who are growing up particularly are affected. In growth there is an increased need for zinc and most adolescents neglect a healthy nutrition during this phase.

The HPU / KPU also requires a high zinc intake. However, these amounts can usually no longer be supplied through the food, so that only the way through dietary supplements promises success.

Last but not least there are the smokers and people who celebrate an excessive lifestyle with lots of alcohol, one-sided nutrition and little sleep. These usually have significantly lowered zinc levels in whole blood.

Typical symptoms of zinc deficiency

In a zinc deficiency, primarily the immune system is impaired in its function, which opens the door for many more diseases. Most typical are also a disturbed sense of taste and smell and wound healing disorders, severe hair loss, severe fatigue and skin problems. In addition, many patients report the following symptoms of pronounced zinc deficiency:

  • Depression
  • Forgetfulness
  • Irritability
  • Lack of concentration
  • Fatigue
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight Loss
  • Hair loss and premature graying of the hair of the head and beard
  • Brittle nails with white spots
  • Acne, bad and impure skin
  • Bad wound healing
  • Increased susceptibility to infections
  • Growth disorders in children
  • Impaired fertility and decreased libido

How to diagnose a zinc deficiency?

First of all, it is important to observe yourself and see if any of the above mentioned symptoms are present. Problems with short-term memory, low energy, severe hair loss, decreased libido, a weak immune system and sudden eczema or inflammation of the skin are classic symptoms. But at least when white spots on the fingernails are present, it is clear that there is a significant lack of zinc.

Measuring zinc levels in whole blood

The next step would be to measure the level of zinc in the blood or urine. Whereby it is important to measure with a blood test in whole blood (EDTA / heparin) and not in serum. This measurement is much more reliable and meaningful. While the zinc value in the serum is still within the norm, a whole blood analysis shows that most of them are already deficient.

The IMD laboratory in Berlin explains this as follows:

The mineral analysis in the lysed heparin or EDTA whole blood, determines both the cell-bound and the free serum-localized metals. Since metals such as potassium, zinc, magnesium, selenium or copper are even predominantly “stored” intracellularly, only whole blood mineral analysis allows an optimal assessment of the trace element household.

It is recommended to co-determine copper in a whole blood analysis at the same time. Both blood values ​​considered in combination, give usually much more information about the balance of both metals to each other and are, with a price of less than 20 $, still affordable for private payers.

Bryce-Smith and Simpson Zinc Flavor Test with Zinc Sulphate

The medical journal The Lancet first reported that it was also possible to detect zinc deficiency by simple actions. Professor D.Bryce-Smith and RI. Simpson have developed a rapid method of detecting possible zinc deficiency, by mixing simple zinc sulphate from the pharmacy with distilled water to a solution and administering to volunteers.

Depending on what the test person tasted, it shed light on his zinc status. If the solution for the subject only tasted like water, you could assume a strong zinc deficiency. If the solution immediately tasted very unpleasant and long-lasting metallic, this spoke for a sufficient supply of zinc.

Instructions: This is how the taste test can be carried out quickly:

The 0.1% test solution lets you simply mix 1g commercial zinc sulfate (pharmacy) and 1 liter distilled water. Ideally, you should at least half an hour before the test, do not eat, do not smoke, and drink nothing but water.

Then take a sip (5-10ml) of the test solution in the mouth and rinse it for about 10-15 seconds like a wine tasting in the mouth back and forth. Then the solution can be swallowed or spit out.

  • If the solution tastes like only water, you can assume a strong zinc deficiency. In this case, the above-mentioned physicians administer their patients up to 150mg of zinc per day.
  • If the solution initially tastes of nothing or only of water, but changes its taste after about 15 seconds into bland, furry and sweet, you can assume a moderate zinc deficiency. In this case, the above-mentioned physicians administer their patients up to 100mg of zinc per day.
  • If the solution tastes bland, furry and sweet immediately after ingestion and increases significantly in intensity in the next few seconds, you can expect a good supply of zinc. In this case, the above-mentioned physicians administer their patients up to 50mg of zinc per day.
  • If the solution tastes strongly metallic and disgusting immediately after ingestion, one can assume an optimal supply of zinc. In this case, the above-mentioned doctors recommend to their patients a constant maintenance dose of 15-25mg zinc per day and to increase the dose only in case of a lot of stress and sport.

Which foods contain a lot of zinc?

In order to ensure a sufficient supply of zinc, it is necessary to take in enough zinc daily through the foods. Normally, adults need about 10mg of zinc per day to be adequately nourished. This can be accomplished with a conscious diet.

But there are exceptions such as pregnancy, or diseases such as the HPU / KPU, where a sufficient supply of zinc by food is not possible. In these cases, zinc must be used in the form of supplements.

In nature there is zinc in different variants. On the one hand, zinc is present in various plant foods, but on the other hand, also in animal foods. Both variants are good for the human body, but the zinc can be better absorbed and processed from animal source.

This is also the reason why vegetarians and vegans suffer from zinc deficiency if they do not consume the high-zinc containing vegetable foods in big amounts.

Here is a short list of foods that contain a lot of high-quality zinc and whose consumption is recommended for zinc deficiency:

  • Meat: Roastbeef, filet, muscle meat, deer, 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, shrimps, mussels, lobster and caviar
  • Nuts and seeds: poppy seeds, Brazil nuts, cashews, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, walnut kernels and sunflower seeds
  • Dairy products: Condensed milk, cream, lean yogurt, feta, quark, Emmentaler, Edam, Gouda, Chester, Camembert and Parmesan
  • Eggs: Organic eggs, egg yolk and egg white
  • Cereals: Oatmeal, wheat bran, wheat grain, wheat germs, amaranth , Millet, rye grain, spelled grain, barley grain, buckwheat, quinoa, corn and rice
  • Bread: Crispbread, wheat wholemeal bread, rye wholemeal bread and mixed wheat bread
  • Fruit: 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: cep, oyster mushroom, chanterelle and white mushroom
  • Other: honey, Milk Chocolate, Cocoa powder, Black Tea, Baker’s- and brewer’s yeast

Fill Up the Zinc Storage with Dietary Supplements

When you become zinc deficient due to improper nutrition or inferior foods, zinc-containing foods are generally not enough to fix a zinc deficiency. In this case and due to conditions such as HPU / KPU, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Crohn’s disease, usually there is no way around the additional, high-dose support with dietary supplements.

But supplementation and supplementation is not the same. It is always worth to take a look at the composition and the bioavailability. For zinc, zinc picolinate and zinc gluconate can be recommended. Both forms are great for replenishing the zinc stores and are effectively absorbed by the body. In addition, zinc picolinate is also affordable in the long term. Further, it should be ensured that the desired zinc preparation is free from magnesium stearates.

Unfortunately, magnesium stearate is added to the majority of all nutritional supplements today to speed up the capsule production process and prevent capsules from sticking to machine parts. Unfortunately, magnesium stearate now is known to override the effect of supplementation itself and to glue the intestine, so that absorption of nutrients is additionally prevented. So keep your fingers off of such supplements!

The role of zinc in heavy metal pollution

Finally, it must  be mentioned 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 when the condition worsens increasingly after the zinc intake.

Many people think that they would not tolerate zinc, which is a fallacy. If a worsening of the condition occurs after taking zinc, you can only assume that you are contaminated with heavy metals and that these heavy metals are displaced by zinc into the bloodstream, and in the best case are eliminated via the liver, bile acid and the intestine. In such a case you should familiarize on the subject of heavy metal discharge.

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