Zinc Deficiency: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

Zinc is essential for body functions like cell division and optimized enzyme function. Too little zinc in the body or zinc deficiency can lead to health issues.

Zinc, in trace amounts, is essential for various body functions such as cell division, optimized enzyme function, a balanced male hormone, and a healthy prostate. In addition, zinc might prevent the accumulation of heavy metals in the brain. Too much zinc can lead to weakened bones and deficient copper. But too little zinc in the body or zinc deficiency can also lead to a number of symptoms.


How Does Zinc Promote a Healthy Body?

Important for the immune system

Zinc is essential for a normal immune system function. By magnifying the cytokine interferon-alpha (a protein needed to stop viral multiplication), zinc improves immune system function. Zinc is an important part of the enzyme superoxide dismutase that is an enzyme used to protect the body against reactive oxygen species (ROS).

Fights anti-oxidants and potentially cancer

The University of Michigan School of Medicine reported that zinc is associated with lower plasma oxidative stress and inflammatory cytokines – conditions that are linked to oxidant caused illnesses and side effects. [1]

Improves liver health

Zinc is essential for cell growth and division. Zinc supplements may reduce infections and reduce the risks of liver damage due to free radicals or oxidants.

Improves heart health and blood vessels

Zinc can lower oxidant stress and inflammation. The trace mineral can aid in circulation by reducing clogged arteries and the likelihood of high blood pressure.

Reduces cold severity

A factsheet from the US National Institute of Health reported that zinc could decrease cold symptoms and its severity under certain conditions. Likewise, a study from a Cochrane review concluded that zinc benefits people with severe colds.

Treats other numerous health conditions

Zinc is an important part of more than 300 enzymes that can aid cell reproduction, protein synthesis and protect eyesight. Because of that, zinc can be used in many conditions such as acne vulgaris, male infertility, birth defects, canker sores, gastritis,  hepatitis, hypoglycemia, liver cirrhosis, peptic ulcer, osteoporosis, thalassemia (a blood disorder characterized by infection, enlarged spleen, heart problems), Type 1 and 2 Diabetes and warts. [2]

Heals Wounds

The US NIH cites that zinc helps wound healing by maintaining mucous membranes. Physicians often use zinc supplements to treat patients with leg ulcers.


Who Are at Risk?

You could be at risk if you have the following conditions:

  • Alcoholism – Too much ethanol intake reduces zinc absorption in intestines.
  • Celiac disease
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Diabetes
  • Liver, renal and gastrointestinal diseases
  • Sickle cell disease and Crohn’s disease

You could be at risk if you follow some certain diet such as vegetarianism.

  • Strict Vegetarians – Some sources say that vegetarianism is linked to lower zinc levels because of meat avoidance. Meat is a good source of zinc. Even with healthy levels of vegetable intake, zinc absorption is low because of phytates that is an anti-oxidant compound that binds to zinc, thus slowing the trace mineral absorption.

The Linus Pauling Institute reported that those people who have these conditions are at risk. These include premature infants,  lactating and pregnant women, old adults (65<), malnourished patients and individuals with inflammatory bowel disease.


Symptoms of Zinc Deficiency

Zinc deficiency may cause symptoms such as loss of appetite or anorexia, altered loss of taste and smell, diarrhea, bald patches, bleeding gums, hearing problems,  impaired memory, impaired immune system, slow wound healing, visual problems, white spots in nails and weight loss. A deficiency in this trace mineral can affect the immune system such as weakened T cell function, abnormal thymus, increased infections and abnormal growth of immune organs.



If you suspect that you have two or more of the symptoms above, you may undergo diagnosis that uses laboratory parameters or measurements that indicate a marginal zinc deficiency. Such parameters include serum and zinc-binding capacity, alkaline phosphatase in plasma test before and after zinc supplementation.

Your doctor may let you undergo several tests for a reliable result. The diagnosis might include several tests such as complete blood count (CBC) and blood tests for related elements because zinc deficiency or excess can affect the absorption of other elements. Such trace elements include calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, vitamin D and vitamin B12.



Your doctor can recommend you with zinc treatment by taking oral supplements combined with other trace minerals such as iron and calcium. Dietary supplements contain various forms of sulfate such as zinc acetate, zinc gluconate and zinc sulfate. The standard supplementation depends upon your age. The US Department of Health and Human Services agency – the  National Institutes of Health recommends the following Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA): [3]

  • 2 mg for children, ages 0-6 months
  • 3 mg for children ages 7-12 months
  • 5 mg for children ages 4-8 years
  • 8 mg for children ages 9-13 years
  • 11 mg for male and 9 mg for a female, 13 mg for lactating mothers, 12 mg for pregnant women ages 14-16 years
  • 11 mg for male, 8 mg for a female, 11 mg for lactating mothers, 12 mg for pregnant women, ages 19 years above.

Specific zinc supplement drugs (capsule and tablet) include Zn plus proteini, zinc-220, Galzin, orazinc 110 and zinc chelated.


Precautions with Zinc Supplements

Before taking a zinc supplement, make sure to consult a doctor, read and follow instructions in the label. You should consider these conditions such as allergies, interactions with medicines, and copper deficiency. Eating certain foods with zinc may cause the body not to use the trace mineral. Eat these foods after zinc intake. That food includes bran, fiber-rich foods,   foods, whole-grains and cereals. Avoid taking zinc with other trace minerals such as copper, iron and phosphorous unless you spaced the doses 2 hours apart.

You might be recommended with the natural way of taking zinc-rich foods:

  • Cereals – oats and fortified breakfast cereals
  • Cocoa-based food – dark chocolate and cocoa powder
  • Dairy products – cheese and yogurt
  • Fruits – pomegranate (the top zinc rich fruit), berries
  • Herbs and spices – chervil
  • Meat – chicken, lamb, and beef
  • Mushrooms
  • Nuts and seeds – cashew, pecans, walnuts, peanuts, almonds
  • Seeds –  squash, watermelon, sesame and pumpkin seeds
  • Shellfish – oysters
  • Vegetables, legumes –  asparagus, alfalfa sprouts, napa cabbage, spinach, chickpeas, baked beans, kidney beans


The highest zinc sources constitute oysters (74.0 mg per serving), followed by beef chuck roast, sirloin steak, blue crab, hemp seeds, black beans, and greek yogurt.

Zinc is an essential part of normal cell function can help you live a healthy life. If you have those symptoms, consult your doctor for consultation and diagnosis. You might take food supplements and the best natural foods. Take care that balance is a key and too much zinc can result in zinc toxicity.

1 – Uofmhealth.org. (2019). Zinc | Michigan Medicine. [online] Available at: https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/hn-2934002 [Accessed 16 Mar. 2019].

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