Zinc is a type of mineral found in many types of food. Zinc, like many other micronutrients, cannot be produced in the body, so it is a substance that must be taken with food at an adequate level. The body needs zinc in order to perform many basic tasks such as fighting infection factors, healing wounds, carrying out cell division and DNA synthesis functions, maintaining the production of hair and nail structures in a healthy way, and fulfilling sensory and cognitive functions. In many such areas, zinc deficiency may develop due to reasons such as insufficient intake of this mineral, which is included in the structures of enzymes as a cofactor in over a hundred physiological events, or the presence of certain diseases. In case of deficiency, disruption is observed in all biological events in which the mineral takes part, and as a result, various health problems occur. Therefore, people who cannot get enough zinc with a balanced diet should benefit from mineral supplements and meet these needs.
What is Zinc Deficiency?
Adult and healthy individuals need about 15-20 mg of zinc mineral daily. This amount may vary depending on factors such as pregnancy, breastfeeding, various diseases, growth and development, and gender. Inability to meet this amount can be caused by various factors such as inadequate or unbalanced nutrition, chronic health problems and pregnancy. Zinc deficiency occurs as a result of not meeting the daily zinc requirement for a certain period of time for any reason. Although the daily requirement is low compared to some other minerals, zinc deficiency is a health problem that shows quickly and is therefore common because it cannot be stored in the body. Among the most important tasks of the zinc mineral in the body;
- To support the healthy functioning of the body defense system,
- Ensuring the healing of wounds and traumas,
- Playing a role in the fulfillment of sensory functions such as taste and smell,
- To contribute to the preservation of reproductive ability and the healthy continuation of sexual functions,
- To ensure that nails and hair grow in a healthy way and have a solid structure,
- It has important tasks such as maintaining growth and development.
For these reasons, zinc deficiency is a micronutrient that should be taken care of about its symptoms, and in case of deficiency, it should be replaced as soon as possible with mineral supplements and nutrition planning.
What Are the Symptoms of Zinc Deficiency?
Low levels of the mineral zinc can manifest with a variety of symptoms in humans. These include symptoms that occur due to disruption in the mechanisms in which zinc acts as a cofactor. Common symptoms of zinc deficiency include:
- Hair loss
- Frequent colds and infections due to the weakness of the immune system
- Skin rashes on various parts of the body, especially around the mouth
- delayed wound healing
- Slowing of nail growth, brittle and crack-prone nails
- Wounds on various parts of the skin
- unexplained weight loss
- Decreased sense of taste and smell or abnormalities in these senses
- difficulty focusing
- constant sleepiness
- Slowing of growth and development in children, growth retardation
- Problems with sexual functions and infertility
In addition to these common symptoms, zinc deficiency may not cause any symptoms in some cases. Especially in the early stage of zinc deficiency, the symptoms may not be noticeable. However, as the level of disability increases, the number and severity of symptoms increase. For this reason, if you have some of the above symptoms, it is useful to consult your doctor and have the necessary controls done.
What Causes Zinc Deficiency?
The most common cause of zinc deficiency is nutritional problems. Foods such as red and white meat, seafood, eggs, nuts, whole grains, mushrooms, liver, whole grains, milk and its products are among the main sources of zinc. It is difficult to meet the zinc requirement of people who do not consume such foods sufficiently. In addition, the protein requirement must be met in order for the zinc mineral to be adequately taken and absorbed in the body. For this reason, zinc deficiency is common in people who do not consume enough protein, follow a protein-restricted diet due to any disease, and people who follow nutritional models such as vegetarian and vegan diets. Apart from these, some other conditions that can cause zinc deficiency are:
- sickle cell disease
- celiac disease
- Inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis
- Diabetes (diabetes) disease
- excessive alcohol intake
- Use of iron mineral supplements
How Is Zinc Deficiency Diagnosed?
Patients who experience symptoms indicating zinc deficiency should apply to health institutions and undergo an examination. Physical examination can provide important insights into detecting findings that may indicate zinc deficiency. During the examination to be performed by the physician, the hair, skin and nail structure can be examined. However, various questions may be asked to obtain information on mental activities, the senses of taste and smell, or the frequency of infections. In addition, nutritional habits should be learned, information is also obtained about whether any special nutrition plan is applied, other diseases, if any, and medications used. For patients with suspected zinc deficiency, zinc levels can be measured by referring to some laboratory tests. Zinc level can be measured with blood tests or tests on a hair sample. Although it varies according to the laboratory where the procedure is performed, the average reference values for the blood zinc level are 50-125 mg/dL for infants younger than 1 month, 60-135 mg/dL from 1 month to 15 years of age, and 70-150 mg/dL after 15 years of age and in adulthood. It can be specified as dL. The reference value for zinc test in hair is 100-280 mg/g. Zinc values below these reference values are sufficient for the diagnosis of zinc deficiency. Since reference intervals differ between laboratories, evaluation should be made over the reference interval written in the document containing the test results, and the results must be shown to the physician.
How is Zinc Deficiency Treated?
Zinc deficiency, which develops as a result of insufficient dietary zinc intake, is treated by using zinc supplements. The type, dosage and frequency of use of mineral supplements used for the treatment of zinc deficiency are determined according to the age, gender, health status, special conditions such as pregnancy and breastfeeding, and nutritional habits. In addition to mineral supplements, patients should be directed to dietitians and encouraged to switch to an adequate and balanced diet that fully meets their vitamin and mineral needs. Otherwise, it will develop again due to reasons such as zinc deficiency and continuing wrong eating habits. Zinc supplements may need to be taken routinely during pregnancy, breastfeeding, or early infancy. In such cases, necessary referrals are made by the primary health care institutions or the physician to whom the patient goes regularly. In mineral deficiencies that develop due to various reasons such as gastrointestinal system diseases, sickle cell disease, cancer and diabetes, in addition to the treatment of the existing disease, patients should act in accordance with the recommendation of the physician who followed up. Unconsciously starting the use of zinc supplements without consulting a physician can lead to a condition called zinc toxicity and threaten health. For this reason, vitamin or mineral supplements should only be used by people who are determined to be in need, with the recommendation of a physician.
If you think that your zinc mineral level may be insufficient, if you are on a vegetarian or vegan diet, or if you are experiencing symptoms of zinc deficiency, it would be beneficial to consult your physician and undergo an examination. If you have a zinc deficiency by getting tested by a doctor, you can start taking mineral supplements in line with your doctor’s recommendations.
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