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Zinc is a powerful mineral that plays a part in the normal function of many bodily systems. Obtained through food sources and supplements, zinc is also often sold as a cold remedy. Zinc deficiency occurs when a person does not receive enough zinc in his or her diet, or expels an excessive amount. The deficiency is linked to serious growth problems and immune system issues as well as impairing the function of the digestive system.
Perhaps the most simple way to consume zinc is by following a healthy diet. Zinc occurs as a natural mineral in many foods, including meats, grains and some vegetables. Oysters contain a surprising amount of zinc, but beef, crab, pork, and chicken are also excellent sources.
There is some evidence that suggests that vegetarians are at risk for zinc deficiency, as many high-zinc foods are animal-based. Health experts recommend that vegetarians and vegans increase the amount of nuts, fortified grains, and beans they consume to ensure an adequate amount of the mineral. For ovo-lacto vegetarians, milk, yogurt, and cheese are also excellent sources of zinc.
For pregnant women or nursing mothers, zinc deficiency is an important concern. Low zinc levels can impede proper development of a fetus, delaying growth and immune system development. If a nursing mother is zinc deficient, the baby may not receive the nutritional benefits of zinc through milk. Some health experts also suggest that babies require additional sources of zinc after about six months and recommended weaning or partially weaning around this time.
Zinc deficiency can wreak havoc on a number of systemic processes and lead to severe ill health. Studies suggest that low levels of zinc can slow healing from wounds and cause serious digestive problems that result in chronic diarrhea. Many also believe that insufficient levels of the mineral can lead to longer recovery times from colds, though there is considerable controversy over this claim.
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suggests that an adult requires between 8-11 milligrams of zinc per day. Pregnant and lactating women may require slightly more and may wish to consult a doctor regarding supplements. Dosage is very important, as it is also easy to consume too much zinc, leading to possible health problems.
Most experts agree that a healthy diet is the best way to ensure proper levels of nutrition for all beneficial nutrients including zinc. If a zinc deficiency is suspected, contact a doctor regarding possible tests or supplement guidelines. Avoiding zinc deficiency will promote immune health and gastrointestinal function, and may prevent serious damage to infants and growing children.