Updated: Sep 4, 2021
Nausea, loss of taste, depression, insomnia, anxiety, gastrointestinal upset, decreased appetite, bloating, and attentional difficulties are all symptoms related to zinc deficiency. Zinc is an essential nutrient involved in several biological processes and modulates the activity of more than 300 #enzymes and 2,000 transcription factors. It plays a critical role in immune function, protein synthesis, wound healing, DNA synthesis, and cell division. Anorexia is thought to largely be related to zinc deficiency, while a number of other conditions are related, including: various skin conditions, #amenorrhea (loss of menses), weight issues, and anxiety and depression.
Causes of Zinc Deficiency
Vegan and vegetarian diets are a significant contributor to zinc deficiency, as is a great deal of exercise. Sweating is the key, so think about hot yoga classes for vegans? Loss of zinc loss there. Birth control is another cause of zinc deficiency. Stress, #Celiac disease, puberty, plastics, and environmental toxins all contribute to zinc deficiency.
Another consideration for zinc deficiency is that zinc is predominantly absorbed in the duodenum and proximal jejunum by a carrier-mediated mechanism. This results in zinc having to compete with other #metals for absorption, so in the presence of phytates, zinc affection will be reduced.
Increased copper for example, will decrease zinc, and higher normal levels of copper is quite common. We have it in our drinking water, the water we bathe in, and so naturally, this may impact our zinc levels. The majority of elementary school children in Massachusetts have elevated copper and guess what this is also associated with? Attention deficit disorder.
Absorption is also impacted by whole grains. While important for our diet, all of these foods have a chemical called phytic acid (phytates). These are important for the plant certainly, but they inhibit the absorption of minerals. Phytic acid binds minerals in the gut before they are absorbed. Phytates are a large part of the vegan diet, particularly in our teens.
All edible seeds, grains, legumes, and nuts contain phytic acid. Small amounts are also found in roots and tubers. People with plant-food-heavy diets are at risk of mineral depletion through phytate binding. Almonds, beans, lentils, corn, peanuts, peas, rice, sesame seeds, soybeans, tofu, walnuts, wheat, wheat bran, and wheat germ are all culprits. Animal proteins enhance zinc absorption by binding phytic acid and release amino acids that keep zinc in solution.
Zinc Enhances Neurotransmission
Attention issues, impulsivity, anxiety and depression are all symptoms of zinc deficiency, which makes sense when we appreciate that zinc enhances neurotransmission by enhancing presynaptic exocytosis. A 2017 study examining the influence of zinc on exocytotic neurotransmitter release found vesicular pores in zinc-treated cells stay open longer allowing for enhanced communication (Ren et al., 2017). This really is a profound discovery!
Hair and blood serum analysis have been used to evaluate zinc status, and in one study specific to chronically-malnourished children aged 1-15 years, hair zinc deficiency was diagnosed in 88 percent but serum zinc deficiency was found in only 55 percent. Additionally, hair zinc levels were highly correlated with serum vitamin D levels. I've written previously about hair analysis but in cases of weight management, I would recommend a hair analysis for the evaluation of zinc.