Only within the latter half of the twentieth century has the importance of the mineral zinc in human physiology been established. It wasn’t until 1961 that zinc deficiency was first described. A type of dwarfism was identified in the Middle East at that time which was linked to low dietary intake of zinc in a usable form for human use. Since then zinc deficiency has been linked to a range of ailments and illnesses.
Zinc itself is a metal found naturally in our environment, but it usually is present in very small amounts. Since the development of the metals industry a lot more zinc has found its way into streams, rivers and the ground. Zinc is used by the human body in small amounts and only about twenty percent of the zinc found in plants that we eat is absorbed, likely because it is in a form that is difficult for our bodies to absorb. Also because chemicals in our diet from other foods such as whole wheat grain inhibit zinc absorption. Interestingly strict vegetarians are at a risk of zinc deficiency. While zinc is present in plants, it is also present in an easier to absorb form in meat.
The recommended daily intake of zinc for men is nine and a half milligrams and for women it is seven milligrams. While it can be difficult for your body to absorb zinc taking high doses of it or being exposed to high amounts of zinc in your environment for long periods or time will result in overdose symptoms, so stick to that suggested intake.
A zinc deficiency can be caused by a poor diet, inability to properly absorb any zinc, alcoholism, extensive burns, long term kidney disease, sickle cell disease, some diuretics will make you lose zinc, pregnancy (you’ll need a higher dosage of zinc at this time), and some other genetic disorders.
Mild cases of zinc deficiency will cause weight loss, some lose of taste and smell, some swelling of the tongue and mouth, slow growth, hair loss, rashes, low sperm count, delayed wound healing and inflammation of the nail bed.
If you are pregnant it is important to take a higher dosage of zinc. Zinc deficiency in the mother has been linked to low birth weight, premature birth and anencephaly (a tragic malformation of the fetus.)
More Severe cases of zinc deficiency will cause a stop in growth and maturation of children, sometimes resulting in a form of dwarfism. Poor testicular functioning can result. There will also be increased problems with the eye such as, optic neuritis, cataract formation, and poor color formation. Zinc deficiency will also lead to immune disorders, and dermatitis. A lack of zinc is also found to result in anorexia. Researchers believe zinc is used by the body in some way to create appetite, and without zinc in the body there is no appetite.