Zinc Deficiency; Symptoms, Treatment & Zinc Rich Foods

In 2007, 80,000 metric tons of glyphosate were put into the environment. Glyphosate is a GMO that binds and blocks zinc and other minerals in the soil. This affected zinc absorption in a large scale of the population, causing many cases of deficiency. Zinc is the second-highest trace mineral in the blood after iron. It is a fascinating essential trace element for our body, even if we only need this element in tiny amounts. It is vital for many body functions and for our metabolism, but 12% of the worldwide population is suffering from zinc deficiency.

Zinc is an element that is not stored in the body and should be taken consistently from food. It acts as a coenzyme for over 1000 enzymes, it is essential for the metabolism of DNA and RNA, and to build proteins. Coenzyme or cofactor means it can help other enzymes in a metabolic reaction, and they cannot work alone. 10% of all body protein is bonded to zinc. Its deficiency is higher in Asia and developing countries, and that deficiency is a significant risk factor for a lot of diseases in these countries.

Zinc benefits

Zinc is an essential mineral and a cofactor for many reactions in the body, which is why it has many benefits for the organism.

Here are some of the benefits of zinc:

Body growth

Zinc acts as a cofactor for a lot of enzymes, which is essential for body tissue development, especially in the brain. The brain is the organ with the highest concentration of zinc in the body.

Boosts the immune system

Zinc stimulates and activates T lymphocytes, a type of white blood cells. They are a defense mechanism and fight against infectious agents like viruses and bacteria.

Important for the male genital system

It stimulates the production of sperm and prevents the mutation in their genes. Zinc regulates male sex hormones, including testosterone and androgens which help with the normal function of the male reproductive system and the production of seminal fluid and sperm. As an antioxidant, zinc prevents the effect of the free radicals on the production of sperm, which can reduce the number of sperm cells and mutate their production genes. It also protects against heavy metals because their accumulation in the male reproductive system reduces sperm numbers and motility.

Acts as antioxidant

Antioxidants are substances that reduce and remove harmful molecules from cells to protect them from aging and degeneration. It delays the aging processes, reducing the incidence of premature aging, the appearance of wrinkles, and protecting against cancers because it supports cell growth and differentiation.

Important for skin health

The skin is the 3rd organ with the highest zinc concentration in the body. It improves the appearance of dry skin, speeds up the healing process of wounds, fights acne and reduces the signs of premature aging. Zinc is an essential mineral in skin creams and lotions to help with acne, reduce wrinkles and pigmentation, boost collagen and hydration and help against skin cancer.

Mood stabilizer

Zinc concentrates in the brain, mostly in the emotion-related areas like the hippocampus. Zinc is a natural anti-depressant because it acts on the chemical transmitters of the brain, including serotonin and dopamine, which are essential for the brain function and elevate the mood.

Stabilizes the blood glucose

Zinc is an essential mineral for production, secretion, storage, and action of insulin. Insulin is the main hormone that regulates the glucose level in the blood by increasing glucose influx to the cells.

Stimulates the taste

The levels of zinc affect taste because it promotes taste bud production and stimulates nerve impulses and conduction. Studies show an improvement of taste after zinc supplements in patients with zinc deficiency while patients with taste loss not related to zinc deficiency show no signs of improvement in their taste.

Treats diarrhea

Oral rehydration therapy is an essential therapy for children with diarrhea. Studies show that combining zinc with ORT treats and reduces the severity and mortality of diarrhea in children. Zinc improves the absorption of different nutrients from the intestine and stimulates the regeneration of the intestinal cells which both reduce the symptoms of the disease.

Zinc deficiency symptoms

The deficiency of zinc can affect all the body tissues, as it is a coenzyme in production, transfer, and translation of DNA, which is an essential component in all body cells.

Here are some zinc deficiency symptoms:

Recurrent infection

Recurrent infection, Zinc deficiency symptoms
Recurrent infection

Zinc is responsible for a healthy and robust immune system to fight against bacteria and viruses; It is also essential for skin integrity, a natural defense mechanism against infection. In zinc deficiency, these mechanisms will be affected leading to frequent infections.

Growth retardation

zinc deficiency, Zinc deficiency symptoms
zinc deficiency

If the mother during pregnancy or breastfeeding was zinc deficient, that will cause the infant to have growth retardation. Zinc is important for brain development and other body tissues. The mother should have a high zinc food diet and supplement to maximize the child’s growth and prevent growth retardation.


Infertility, Celiac Disease Symptoms, Zinc deficiency symptoms

Zinc deficiency may cause infertility because it reduces the production and the quality of the sperm. It affects the lining of the male reproductive system, which can affect the quality of semen and the sperm cell count.


depression symptoms, Zinc deficiency symptoms

Studies show that people that suffer from depression have low zinc levels in their body, and the symptoms improved after treatment of zinc deficiency.


Type 2 Diabetes Symptoms, Zinc deficiency symptoms

Zinc deficiency reduces insulin levels in the blood, which increases the risk of developing diabetes. Research shows that the reduction of zinc increases free radicals in the blood, which damages the islets of insulin in the pancreases, causing type 2 diabetes.

Skin problems

Skin problems, Zinc deficiency symptoms
Skin problems

Zinc is responsible for normal cell growth, maturation, and differentiation. Its deficiency is more evident on highly dividing cells, as in epithelial tissues in the skin and cornea or mucous membranes in the lip and mouth. It changes the moisture content of the skin, gives rise to certain conditions like acne, psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, hyperpigmentation, and eczema.

Disturbance in taste and smell

Disturbance in taste and smell
Disturbance in taste and smell

Patients who suffer from zinc deficiency reported a reduction of taste. This responds to taste buds destruction and reduction of taste nerve conduction during zinc deficiency.

Foods high in zinc

Zinc can be found in many foods, especially animal sources like oysters, beef, veal liver, beef jerky, lamb, bison, pastrami, chicken hearts, and chicken legs. It can also be found in plant sources like tofu, hemp seeds, lentils, shiitake mushrooms, tahini, pumpkin seeds, wild rice, cashew, soybeans, and chia seeds. Some plants like grains and beans contain phytate or phytic acid which binds to zinc and prevents its absorption. Animal sources of zinc are an excellent choice to elevate or maintain zinc levels in the body.

Here are some of the highest zinc sources and the amount of zinc in 100 grams of each source:

  • Oysters: 36 mg, 327% of the daily zinc intake
  • Beef: 15 mg, 140% of the daily zinc intake
  • Chicken leg: 5 mg, 49% of the daily zinc intake
  • Firm tofu: 4 mg, 36% of the daily zinc intake
  • Porkchop: 4 mg, 32% of the daily zinc intake
  • Hemp seeds: 3 mg, 26% of the daily zinc intake
  • Lentils: 3 mg, 23% of the daily zinc intake
  • Yogurt: 2 mg, 22% of the daily zinc intake
  • Oatmeal: 2 mg, 21% of the daily zinc intake
  • Shiitake mushrooms: 2 mg, 18% of daily zinc intake

How much zinc per day?

Daily recommendations of zinc differ according to age, sex, daily activity, the person’s status of health, metabolic and medical conditions. However, the recommended zinc amount according to the World Health Organization (WHO) is as follows:

  • From birth to 6 months: 2 mg
  • Infants from 7 to 12 months: 3 mg
  • Children from 1 to 3 years: 3 mg
  • Children from 4 to 8 years: 5 mg
  • Children from 9 to 13 years: 8 mg
  • Adults from 14 years and older: 11 mg
  • Teen girls from 14 to 18 years: 9 mg
  • Female adults from 19 years and older: 8 mg
  • Pregnant teens from 14 to 18 years: 12 mg
  • Pregnant teens from 14 to 18 years: 13 mg
  • Breastfeeding teens from 14 to 18 years: 11 mg
  • Breastfeeding women from 19 years and older: 12 mg

People at risk of zinc deficiency may need more than the daily zinc recommendation.

Normal zinc levels

Normal zinc levels in the blood test are 80-120 μg/dl (microgram per deciliter). Doctors can diagnose zinc deficiency with a zinc blood test when zinc levels are below 80 μg/dl.

Risk factors of zinc deficiency

Low zinc intake

Zinc is a trace element that doesn’t store in the body and should be taken daily in the diet to prevent its deficiency. People who don’t consume their daily zinc recommendations are at higher risk of developing zinc deficiency.


Patients with intestinal disease that decrease zinc absorption such as celiac, cystic fibrosis, and Crohn’s diseases should consider zinc supplements, and these conditions must be treated to avoid its deficiency.

Sickle cell anemia

Studies show that children who suffer from sickle cell anemia have low zinc level in their body because of the high nutrient demands. Patients should consider zinc supplements because studies show it improves the growth rate in these children.


Ethanol in alcohol prevents zinc absorption and increase its execration in the urine. Additionally, alcoholics usually don’t get enough zinc in their diet in the first place.

Pregnant and breastfeeding women

Pregnancy depletes zinc because of the infant’s high nutrient demand. A pregnant woman who starts pregnancy with low zinc levels is at risk of developing zinc deficiency.

Delayed weaning

Mothers should start weaning after 6 months of birth because of low nutrients in the mother milk and high nutrient demand of the infant. Restrict breastfeed infants after 6 months are at risk of developing zinc deficiency because of low zinc concentration in mother’s milk.

Prevention of zinc deficiency

  • Eat food that rich in zinc such as oysters, beef, veal liver, beef jerky, lamb, bison, pastrami, chicken heart, chicken legs, and fortified food. Food with high phytate levels should be avoided because they bind to zinc and prevent their absorption.
  • Use zinc supplements, especially in people how are at risk of zinc deficiency as in breastfed infants, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and older people.
  • Avoid alcohol intake as it decreases zinc absorption from the intestine.

Treatment of zinc deficiency

  • You should elevate zinc levels in the blood by working on the same points as in the prevention of zinc deficiency. You can ask your doctor, as he may recommend zinc supplements to increase its levels. Zinc supplements are available over the counter, and for most adults, the recommended daily allowance is 11 mg for adult males and 8 mg for adult females.
  • Always ask your doctor before taking supplements, even if it is available over the counter. Zinc supplements may irritate the gut causing nausea, vomiting, and a metallic taste in the mouth.
zinc deficiency