Zinc is a mineral that our body needs in order to fight off infection and produce new cells. Zinc also plays a vital role in healing injuries and creating DNA. In theory we should be able to get enough zinc in our diets, so zinc deficiency is relatively uncommon in the United States, but it is more common among people over sixty years old, and vegetarians.
Although not life-threatening, a zinc deficiency can be particularly dangerous in pregnant or breastfeeding women so it is important to know the symptoms. We've compiled seven key symptoms below.
1) Regular infections
Zinc is vital to a healthy immune system, and one of the most common symptoms is a tendency to develop infections - either viral or bacterial.
2) Sores that won't heal
Even if they're not infected, you might notice that your cuts and sores just aren't healing as quickly as they should.
3) Thinning hair
If you already know that you're zinc deficient, don't worry too much - hair only starts to thin when a zinc deficiency is severe. On the flip side, if you have thinning hair but none of the other symptoms on this list, it's likely not due to a zinc deficiency. make sure you mention it to your doctor, though, particularly if you are pregnant.
This is a common symptom of zinc deficiency, and according to the Mayo Clinic there is strong scientific evidence for zinc supplements being used to treat diarrhea in children.
5) Loss of appetite
Zinc is vital to maintaining a good sense of taste and smell, so if you've found you suddenly have a lacklustre approach to food because it just doesn't taste as good anymore, you may be zinc deficient. This is a common symptom among older people.
6) Stunted growth
There isn't a lot we can do about this one, but scientists agree that zinc's vital role in cell growth is linked to stunted growth in children where there has been a zinc deficiency.
7) Loss of hearing
There is some evidence to suggest that zinc is vital for good hearing. One study of people with hearing issues found that zinc deficiency was linked to a greater severity of hearing loss, and another study showed significant improvement in hearing after taking zinc supplements.
Fortunately, zinc is relatively easy to get from a balanced diet. You can get it from foods like red meat, poultry, seeds, wheat germ, wild rice, and oysters. Vegetarians can have a more difficult time getting enough zinc but it is readily available in baked beans, cashews, peas and almonds. We don't actually require much zinc in our daily diet but if you have higher risk factors (i.e. low intake of animal protein) then you should consider taking a supplement. A multi-vitamin will suffice, but there are more concentrated zinc supplements you can take, too. In fact, zinc has been proven to treat a number of ailments from the common cold, to mouth ulcers, to ADHD.