Is stress Sensitive? hair loss? susceptible to infection? Weary? Underperforming? bad skin? Unfulfilled desire to have children? Maybe it’s a zinc deficiency! Zinc is an essential trace element. A lack of zinc can increase or even trigger many health problems.
Zinc is an essential trace element
Zinc is an essential trace element, which means that although it is only necessary for small amounts, it must be ingested regularly with food.
The need for zinc
The zinc requirement is officially stated (DGE) as follows :
- Infants (0 – 1 year): 1.5 – 2.5 mg zinc per day
- Children (1 – 10 years): 3 – 6 mg
- Male adolescents (10-19 years): 9-14 mg
- Female adolescents (10-19 years): 8-11 mg
- Men: 11 to 16 mg
- Females: 7 to 10 mg
- Pregnant women in the 1st trimester: 7 – 11 mg
- Pregnant women in the 2nd trimester: 9 – 13 mg
- Breastfeeding: 11 – 14 mg
Babies are usually optimally supplied with zinc through breast milk. Of course, the mother should also be well supplied with zinc (and all other vital substances).
The large ranges for children and young people are due to the fact that the older the children and young people get, the more zinc is needed. For adults, however, there is another explanation from the German Society for Nutrition (DGE):
The more phytic acid, the more zinc
The more phytic acid or phytate you take in daily through your diet, the more zinc you should take. Phytic acid is a plant substance that is found in grains, seeds, nuts, and legumes in particular. The more plant-based food you eat, the more zinc you need, according to the DGE. Because phytic acid inhibits the absorption of zinc.
The DGE then created three groups:
- People who consume little phytic acid (330 mg/day = 0.5 mmol/day) need 11 mg zinc (men) or 7 mg zinc (women).
- People consuming moderate amounts of phytic acid (660 mg/day = 1 mmol/day) need 14 mg zinc (men) or 8 mg zinc (women).
- People who consume a lot of phytic acids (990 mg/day = 1.5 mmol/day) need 16 mg zinc (men) or 10 mg zinc (women).
Which group do you belong to?
How do you know which of the three groups you belong to? The DGE explains the matter as follows:
- Group 1 eats few whole grain products and legumes, but plenty of animal products.
- Group 2 eats a wholesome diet, possibly even vegetarian or vegan, but when choosing grain products, make sure that they have been germinated or fermented (sourdough bread), and when choosing legumes that they have been soaked (germinated) before consumption.
- Group 3 eats unfermented and germinated whole grain products, and plenty of legumes and covers their protein requirements primarily with vegetable protein sources such as soy products.
Zinc deficiency can affect anyone
From the above description, one could conclude that vegetarians and vegans are particularly at risk of zinc deficiency. Zinc is therefore often referred to as a “problem element” for vegetarians.
It is said that zinc from animal foods is much easier to absorb than zinc from plant sources. We show that with a vegan and vegetarian diet you do not risk zinc deficiency. On the contrary. Zinc deficiency can affect anyone – whether they are vegan, vegetarian, or mixed.
However, before we explain how you can easily get enough zinc – even if you’re purely vegan – let’s take a look at the symptoms of a zinc deficiency:
What are the symptoms of zinc deficiency?
Zinc has many important tasks in the human body, which can be seen from the fact that it is a component of up to 300 enzymes.
Skin and mucous membrane problems
If you suffer from zinc deficiency, you notice this particularly in the skin and mucous membrane problems as well as in a weak immune system. This is because skin, mucous membranes, and the immune system are among the cell systems with a high rate of cell division. In the case of a zinc deficiency, however, this rapid cell division can no longer take place as rapidly as would be necessary for these cell systems.
The following symptoms quickly appear:
- Taste disorders (oral mucosa)
- diarrhea (intestinal mucosa)
- Dermatitis and acne (skin): Researchers have been able to directly trigger acne in young men who were fed a low-zinc diet for just 12 days. In similar studies, a diet low in zinc could trigger aphthous ulcers, facial rashes, and athlete’s foot. If zinc was then administered again, the symptoms disappeared as quickly as they had come.
- increased susceptibility to infection (immune system)
- Delayed healing processes and wound healing disorders (external skin/internal mucous membranes)
- Delayed recovery: Zinc increases the body’s ability to heal itself so much that a 2004 study showed how higher zinc levels in patients suffering from pneumonia accelerated recovery and reduced hospital stays. Even with stomach ulcers, zinc can promote the healing process and lead to earlier recovery.
- growth disorders in children’s
Since the hair follicles also belong to the areas with a faster cell division rate, a zinc deficiency is often noticeable through hair loss. If the zinc deficiency is remedied and it was the sole reason for the hair loss, new hair growth will quickly start again (after three months at the latest).
Increased susceptibility to infection
Zinc is particularly well-known for its resistance-enhancing effect, which is why it is often sold as a component of effervescent tablets against infections or to increase the immune system during flu season.
Consequently, zinc is often used as an accompaniment to infections of all kinds, such as e.g. B. influenza infections, but also gastrointestinal infections used. Because the trace element has an antiviral effect and noticeably increases immune functions. In the case of zinc deficiency, on the other hand, the activity of the various immune cells (T helper, T killer, and natural killer cells) decreases drastically and there is an increased susceptibility to infections.
Weak detoxification ability due to lack of zinc
When it comes to detoxification and purification, zinc is considered an essential component of the body’s protective system. Because zinc is an important component of enzymes that the body uses for detoxification.
As a component of alcohol dehydrogenase, zinc helps with alcohol detoxification, as a component of metallothionein in heavy metal detoxification, and as a component of superoxide dismutase (SOD) in fighting free radicals – to name just three examples.
If you suffer from a zinc deficiency, the organism can no longer detoxify as well, so the zinc level should always be checked during detoxification and detox cures.
Zinc deficiency can lead to depressive mood
Studies have also shown that when zinc is deficient, zinc can act as an antidepressant. Zinc deficiency can therefore make you depressed. If sufficient zinc is then absorbed again, the mood rises again.
The explanation for this is that zinc is an important component of an enzyme (aromatic L-amino acid decarboxylase) which in turn helps to build serotonin. And serotonin is known to be an important messenger that is involved in a balanced mental life.
Zinc is also indispensable for mental and neurological fitness into old age. It is known, for example, that patients suffering from Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s often have far too low zinc levels.
Correcting the existing nutrient deficiencies (zinc, vitamin D, magnesium, omega 3, etc.) would often lead to an improvement in the symptoms or at least to a slower progression of the disease.
Zinc deficiency causes poor eyesight in old age
If eyesight begins to deteriorate, a zinc deficiency could also be involved, since zinc is a cofactor of the eye vitamin (vitamin A). It is not yet known for sure to what extent a possible zinc deficiency is causally involved in age-related visual impairment. However, it can be observed regularly that the zinc level in the retina decreases in parallel with the loss of vision.
Zinc is also part of the storage form of insulin, so it is particularly important for diabetics to check their own zinc status.
Diabetics with low zinc levels also suffer from much more severe side effects such as high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, and elevated triglyceride levels.
If you then consider how often diabetics complain about poorly healing wounds, but zinc can promote precisely these healing processes, it quickly becomes clear that zinc is extremely important for diabetics.
Discomfort during pregnancy
Even a slight zinc deficiency is associated with massive health effects during pregnancy.
These include postpartum atonic bleeding (bleeding that does not stop itself), inadequate labor, prolonged pregnancy, and abnormal taste buds.
Since the zinc requirement increases during pregnancy and breastfeeding, it is particularly important to ensure that enough zinc is actually ingested.
However, it is not uncommon for pregnancy not to occur in the first place. Zinc could also be involved in this problem – it is often referred to as the “fertility element”.
Zinc deficiency fertility problems
There are some regions in the human body that are particularly rich in zinc. These include the semen, the prostate, the epididymis, and the ovaries.
If there is a zinc deficiency, all of these zones are undersupplied. In men, the sperm count decreases. The remaining sperm lose mobility.
The fertility of men and women only increases again when sufficient zinc is supplied again.
So even if only a few milligrams of zinc are needed every day, it would be unfavorable not to take the trace element seriously enough.
Therefore, check whether you may be observing one or the other zinc deficiency symptom, check whether your diet and lifestyle can provide you with enough zinc, and whether you are taking any medications that lower your zinc levels.
Drugs that lower zinc levels
Among the drugs that can lower the zinc level, e.g. B. by forcing excessive urinary excretion of zinc includes the following:
- ACE inhibitors (for high blood pressure)
- antacids (used to neutralize stomach acid)
- birth control pills
- Radiation and chemotherapy
- Ciclosporin A (for Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, severe forms of neurodermatitis and psoriasis, etc.)
- Cortisone (for chronic inflammation, skin diseases, and autoimmune diseases)
- Diuretics (for water retention)
- DMPS and EDTA (for removing mercury, e.g. after amalgam treatment; zinc is also removed with mercury)
- iron supplements
- Lipid-lowering drugs (to lower high cholesterol and/or triglyceride levels)
- Tetracyclines (antibiotics e.g. against infections of the respiratory tract, intestines, and urogenital tract)
A number of these drugs are taken for long periods of time, some even for decades, e.g. B. Drugs for high blood pressure, the pill, or lipid-lowering drugs can in this way lead to a chronic and noticeable zinc deficiency.
The symptoms of zinc deficiency then join the original disease for which the medication is taken. And since zinc is involved in healing processes, the chance that the disease could ever be alleviated or even cured continues to decrease.
But not only drugs can cause a zinc deficiency. There are other risk factors that can lead to zinc deficiency:
How Alcohol Lowers Your Zinc Levels
Anyone who enjoys drinking alcohol should know that alcohol increases the excretion of zinc in the urine (and also the excretion of other minerals and trace elements).
When you need a lot of zinc
Anyone who finds themselves in a life situation with an increased need for zinc should make sure that they actually cover the increased need either with food or with a dietary supplement.
For example, pregnant and breastfeeding women, competitive athletes (due to high zinc losses with sweat – 1 mg/liter of sweat), and older people need more zinc than usual.
In times of increased susceptibility to infections, everyone should have a healthy zinc level. If necessary, have this checked by your doctor and, if you find a deficiency, be sure to take zinc.
Why zinc lowers the risk of Covid-19
Zinc has numerous beneficial effects on the immune system and lungs. At the same time, the trace element inhibits the multiplication of viruses and has an anti-inflammatory effect. In our article Zinc: Important in Covid-19 prevention, we describe various studies that show how zinc deficiency can promote severe courses and how zinc deficiency was found more frequently in those who died of Covid-19 than in those who survived.
In the link above you can read all about the correct dosage of zinc for Covid prevention and also what zinc level is required to be optimally protected.
Why seniors are often zinc deficient
Researchers from Oregon State University found in 2015 that zinc deficiency can be particularly devastating in older people. Zinc deficiency – according to scientists – promotes inflammation and also weakens the immune system of seniors so significantly that their risk of acute and chronic diseases increases.
As explained above, a zinc deficiency can promote cognitive dysfunction and poor eyesight, especially in the elderly.
Older people like to take wheat bran to aid in digestion. The phytic acid it contains could promote a zinc deficiency, as it binds to the zinc in the manganese so that it can no longer be fully absorbed by the organism.
Seniors also often live off white flour and milk products. However, it is precisely these food groups that are particularly low in zinc, with dairy products also making zinc absorption more difficult.
Since more than 40 percent of seniors over the age of 65 suffer from a zinc deficiency, older people should have their zinc levels checked regularly.
These chronic diseases can lead to zinc deficiency
Anyone suffering from a chronic illness should definitely have their zinc levels (and the levels of other nutrients and vital substances) checked regularly, since many diseases either increase the excretion of vital substances or worsen the absorption of vital substances, both of which naturally greatly increase the requirement leaves.
These diseases include:
- acute and chronic infections
- All diseases that can be accompanied by diarrhea, e.g. B. irritable bowel or chronic inflammatory bowel disease
- kidney disease or
- cryptopyrroluria (KPU), which had been forgotten for a long time but has recently been taken into account again by more and more therapists.
Zinc deficiency can indicate cryptopyrroluria
Cryptopyrroluria (KPU) is a metabolic disorder that affects 10 percent of the population and is associated with a high loss of three vital substances: zinc, manganese, and vitamin B6. Many people are unaware that they are KPU sufferers. However, this can be checked by a doctor with a simple urine test.
Those affected by KPU do not suffer from a specific symptom, but from a veritable variety of symptoms, which is easy to imagine when you know that these people are missing at least three vital substances.
In addition, they are missing in such high doses that the increased requirement can no longer be met with food. High-dose dietary supplements must be taken in this case, which can often lead to a rapid improvement in the stressful symptoms.
KPU symptoms include e.g. B. the following complaints:
- Frequent headaches or migraines
- depression or mood swings
- Difficulty concentrating and tiredness up to ADHD/ADS
- sleep disorders
- Eye problems (sensation of pressure, sensitivity to light, dry eyes, etc.)
- Thyroid disease is often present (Hashimoto, M. Basedow, underactive or overactive)
- Low blood pressure
- allergies and food intolerances
- And many more…
In the case of KPU, apart from manganese and vitamin B6, 15 mg of zinc is taken twice a day. Vitamins D and B12 as well as magnesium and chromium are usually also missing in KPU. However, KPU is in an exceptional situation. Under normal circumstances, zinc requirements can be wonderfully met through diet.
Are you getting enough zinc?
Zinc is found in many foods. Below are the zinc values of the most important food groups:
- High zinc levels are found in meat products and cheese (2 to 5 mg/100g), but also in grain products (2 to 4 mg/100g).
- Legumes provide 2 to 3.5 mg of zinc per 100g.
- However, when it comes to zinc, the top performers are – right after the oysters with 8 to 9 mg per oyster – the oilseeds, e.g. B. Pumpkin seeds (7 mg zinc per 100 g), linseed, and poppy seeds. However, since it is easier to eat 100 g of meat, lentils, or bread than about 100 g of linseed or even poppy seeds, the high amounts of zinc are put into perspective again.
- Fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, provide relatively small amounts of zinc (0.1 to 1 mg per 100 g). However, larger amounts of fruit and vegetables and then larger amounts of zinc can easily be consumed, so this group of foods is also a very important source of zinc, which is unfortunately all too often underestimated.
Which inhibits zinc absorption
In addition, it is not only the amount of zinc in a food that is important but also the other substances that are in this food that could impede or promote zinc absorption.
In dairy products, for example, casein (milk protein) and also high levels of calcium and phosphate can impede zinc absorption.
In legumes, oilseeds, and cereals, on the other hand, it is the phytic acid, in particular, that is said to be able to bind to zinc and thus reduce its usability. It is therefore often said that vegetarians and vegans take in a third more zinc with their food, but the zinc cannot be utilized due to the phytic acid.
Why vegetarians and vegans need not worry about zinc deficiency
If you keep a few things in mind when preparing legumes and cereals (which are common practice in a healthy kitchen anyway), then the phytic acid can be broken down and a higher proportion of the zinc present can be absorbed. Perhaps that’s why scientists continue to wonder how it’s possible that vegans, despite having phytic acid, are simply not zinc deficient, indeed, whose blood zinc levels are completely identical to those of omnivores.
So how do you prepare legumes, oilseeds, and grains to benefit from the zinc they contain?
How to make zinc from plant foods usable
Legumes and oilseeds are soaked in water for a few hours – preferably overnight – before consumption and germinated in this way. That doesn’t mean you have to see a seedling yet. It is sufficient that the germination process is initiated.
The germination process leads to the enzyme phytase being activated in the seed. Phytase, in turn, breaks down the phytic acid so that it can no longer bind zinc (and other minerals).
Ideally, you should do the same for grain.
However, if you want to grind the grain into flour or process it into flakes, then things get complicated. The germinated grain would first have to be dried again in order to be able to process it further in the mill or in the flocculator, which would not only be time-consuming but also very energy-intensive.
When it comes to bread, there is also flour made from sprouted grain. However, a traditional dough process (with yeast, baking ferment, or sourdough) also leads to the breakdown of phytic acid, so a high-quality wholemeal bread from your organic baker (or one that you have baked yourself) is a very good source of zinc.
Zinc losses through cooking, storage, and processing
Like many other minerals and trace elements, zinc is very stable during food storage. Yes, the food is more likely to spoil before the zinc levels drop.
Even during cooking, the zinc content is only reduced if the cooking water is poured away, but not when steaming or frying.
During the industrial processing of food, on the other hand, large amounts of zinc are lost, especially when, for example, white flour is made from wholemeal flour, which only provides a little zinc but has no place in a healthy diet anyway.
A diet consisting of plenty of finished products, isolated carbohydrates (white flour, starch, polished rice), and too many dairy products is therefore much more likely to lead to a zinc deficiency than a vegan diet, which is always freshly prepared and varied from high-quality ingredients rich in vital substances.
Sample nutrition plan for optimal vegan zinc supply
With a purely vegan diet, it is therefore no problem to ensure the zinc supply.
To give you an idea of what such a zinc-friendly vegan diet CAN look like, here is a sample meal plan for one day that provides about 15.5mg of zinc, well in excess of what would be required – unless you were a Group 3 male (see above), but as a man, you will probably eat larger amounts than those given below anyway and thus easily reach the 16 mg zinc required in group 3 (for men).
Meals can of course be larger or smaller depending on personal appetite or personal energy requirements. Of course, there is nothing wrong with adding other ingredients to the meals or replacing some ingredients with others of equal value.
Breakfast (approx. 3.5 mg zinc)
- 50 g rolled oats or oatmeal
- 10 g linseed
- 20 g almonds or cashew nuts
- 15 grams of dried fruit
- 100 grams of fresh fruit
- Snack (approx. 1 mg zinc)
Green smoothie from:
- 100g spinach
- 100 grams of fruit
- 10 g white almond butter
- water as needed
- Lunch (approx. 5.7 mg zinc)
- 100 g quinoa (weighed dry, i.e. uncooked), preferably soaked overnight before cooking
- 100 grams of broccoli
- 100 g oyster mushrooms
- 50 g tempeh (1.9 mg zinc)
- Snack (approx. 2.1/2.3 mg zinc)
- 30 g pumpkin seeds or 50 g cashew nuts
Dinner (approx. 3.2 mg zinc)
- 100 g wholemeal spelled bread with sunflower seeds
- 100 g avocado to spread on bread
- Raw vegetables such as cucumber sticks or pepper strips
How is zinc level measured?
If you discover certain symptoms that could indicate a zinc deficiency, then it is best to have your zinc level checked.
The zinc level should always be examined in whole blood and not in serum or plasma, as more than 80 percent of zinc is intracellular, i.e. in the cells, but these in turn are not present in plasma or serum.
If the result indicates a zinc deficiency, then it depends on its degree whether you simply make your diet richer in zinc and healthier or whether you need to take a high-dose mono-zinc supplement.
Zinc supplements with high bioavailability
Since the bioavailability of zinc is particularly high when it is bound to proteins or amino acids, chelated zinc is recommended. In the case of chelated zinc (zinc chelate), for example, the zinc is bound to the amino acid glycine and can therefore be absorbed more easily. Zinc sulfate or zinc oxide is less easily absorbed.
Improve zinc bioavailability
The bioavailability of zinc can be increased with various measures:
- L-lysine (amino acid) increases the absorption of zinc from the gut.
- Quercetin (a plant compound) and cinchona bark extract make cell membranes more permeable to zinc ions, allowing zinc levels to rise where it matters – inside the cells.
Timing of zinc intake
Zinc supplements are best taken in the evening before going to bed with a glass of water. So, taking it in the evening is said to make sense, as zinc can improve sleep quality and also help regulate circadian rhythms. However, since the zinc level increases with a regular supply of zinc, it is highly likely that any other time of intake will also have a positive effect on the quality of sleep in the medium term.
For specific sleep disorders, you could test the combination of melatonin (5 mg), magnesium (225 mg), and zinc (11.25 mg). In a study, this mixture led to a significant improvement in sleep quality after 60 days. The test persons had taken the remedy mixed with 100 g of pureed pear 1 hour before going to bed.
When too much zinc leads to copper deficiency
Long-term high zinc intake should be avoided or under therapeutic supervision since a sustained excessive zinc intake can lead to a copper deficiency. However, the amounts of zinc must be very high. In one case study where copper deficiency was observed as a result of zinc intake, the subject in question was taking over 500 mg of zinc sulfate per day. However, the sensitivity here is different. Other people may experience an excess even at lower doses.
However, the use of adhesive creams (for dentures) seems to be more of a problem in this regard than zinc supplements. Many of these creams contain zinc so a lot of zinc is absorbed – and mostly daily and without you knowing it. A 2020 study states:
Adhesive creams are significantly more likely to cause copper deficiency than other factors associated with excess zinc. It is possible that zinc from adhesive creams is particularly well absorbed, or the creams contain a lot of zinc.
Our article on adhesive creams gives you all the details you need to choose the safest adhesive cream possible.
If you now want to take zinc and fear a copper deficiency, then you could, for example, also take a combined preparation that contains both – zinc and copper – so that a one-sided supply is avoided from the outset, e.g. B. the zinc complex from effective nature, which provides 20 mg zinc and 2 mg copper per daily dose.