Zinc acts differently than some of the other well-known minerals. Whereas some other minerals have functions that are more clear (e.g., calcium for bone strength and iron for healthy red blood cells), zinc has no clear single action. Instead, zinc performs a number of important functions in the body because it is an essential component of approximately 200 enzymes that are involved in a wide range of actions within the body. A deficiency of zinc can impact many different bodily functions and result in a range of symptoms.
Zinc deficiency can be caused by low intake of foods containing zinc and/or blood loss due to intestinal parasites. It can also result from excessive intake of foods (those containing iron, calcium, vitamin D, and the fiber and phytates in cereals) that prevent zinc absorption.
Institutionalized children are at particular risk for zinc deficiency due to diets low in zinc-rich foods and a high incidence of intestinal parasites.
Behavioral and sleep disturbances
Delayed wound healing
Increased allergic sensitivity
Inflammatory bowel disease
Loss of appetite
Poor nail growth
White spots on fingernails
Transverse lines on fingernails
Although rickets is easily treated once it is diagnosed, it can lead to severe complications if left untreated. Complications can include motor delays, skeletal deformities, and chronic growth problems that can result in short stature, seizures, and dental defects.
Maternal zinc deficiency can cause fetal malformations and low birth weight. Zinc deficiency in children can cause impaired growth, impaired immunity, delayed sexual maturation, and mental retardation. Depression, mental lethargy, epilepsy, and schizophrenia have all been linked to a lack of zinc.
Severe zinc deficiency may need to be managed with supplements which are available in two forms: zinc sulfate and zinc gluconate. Zinc deficiency can also be managed through diet by increasing intake of foods rich in zinc content. Vitamins A, E, B6, and minerals such as magnesium, phosphorous, and calcium help in the absorption of zinc.
Foods high in zinc include meats, oysters, haddock, shrimp, eggs, whole grains, oats, ginger root, Brazil nuts, peanuts, almonds, beef, lamb, venison, calf’s liver, sesame seeds, raw pumpkin seeds, green peas, sea vegetables, basil, thyme, spinach, summer squash, asparagus, chard, collard greens, mustard greens, broccoli, yogurt, yeast, miso, maple syrup.