Zinc is an extremely common nutrient to have low levels of and being deficient can have diverse effects on your body and health. 

Here are the top signs and symptoms that could indicate a deficiency in zinc.

  1. Bloating. If bloating occurs within an hour of eating, this happens because your food hasn’t been properly digested. The usual cause of this is a lack of digestive secretions and the main culprit tends to be low stomach acid. In order to make stomach acid your body needs zinc. So a tendency to bloat within an hour or eating can indicate a zinc deficiency.
  2. Reflux. For similar reasons to bloating, regular reflux or heartburn can be an indication of zinc deficiency too.
  3. Stretch marks. The slight tearing of the skin is due to issues with collagen formation which are induced by zinc deficiency. If stretch marks appear easily or you have many this could be the reason why.
  4. Acne. A zinc deficiency can exacerbate acne because it has an antibacterial role as well as helping other key nutrients support the skin.
  5. Poor growth. This is a sign of zinc deficiency in children. A short stature or failure to keep up with peers height-wise is an indicator of zinc deficiency. Likewise, difficulty gaining weight can also be a sign. Contrary to this, zinc deficiency can also cause weight gain by affecting thyroid function and/or blood sugar control.
  6. Hyperactivity. Zinc has been used to counteract hyperactivity in children with ADHD.
  7. Poor memory or learning issues. Zinc’s role in brain health is one of supporting spatial learning and memory a deficiency leads to problems with memory and learning.
  8. Reacting to foods. Having reactions to some foods and developing food intolerances is a sign of zinc deficiency due to it’s role in digestion and in keeping the gut wall healthy.
  9. History of eating disorders. Zinc deficiency can lead to neuropsychiatric conditions, including anorexia nervosa. Also, many people with a history of eating disorders will have a deficiency of zinc exacerbated by periods of low nutrient intake.
  10. Poor wound healing. If you find your cuts take ages to heal then you are most likely in need of some extra zinc.
  11. Depression or low mood. Zinc is a key nutrient for keeping a happy mood. If you are struggling with depression then this could be an issue for you. Zinc helps convert amino acids to serotonin which helps to maintain a good mood. Also, episodes of post-natal depression can be linked to an imbalance between copper and zinc.

Correcting a zinc deficiency.

They key to rectifying a zinc deficiency is to ensure that digestion is optimal. Without good digestion you will not absorb the zinc in your foods well. You can support digestion by raising the acidity levels in the stomach to break down nutrients in food well. You can take a betaine Hcl supplement or you can use apple cider vinegar mixed with water 10 minutes before a meal. Other ways to improve acidity include lemon juice; eating bitter salad leaves (chicory, rocket, and watercress) with your meals and using Swedish bitters. 

The next step is to ensure your diet has high levels of zinc rich foods. I recommend using homemade meat stocks regularly as a base for soups, stews and casseroles. Meat cooked well in stock is a readily absorbed, zinc rich meal. Whilst zinc levels are low and digestion is compromised it is best to use easily absorbed foods or ones that are slightly broken down already, like nut butters, seed pastes, stocks, etc. Other zinc rich foods include oysters and liver.

If you decide to use a supplement of zinc to raise your levels, I recommend using liquid zinc initially so you can by-pass any absorption issues that might prevent you utilising the zinc in capsule form. 

Severe zinc deficiency.

Some people find that their need for zinc is higher than the general population. They excrete higher levels in their urine along with B6. These people have a little-known metabolic dysfunction known as pyroluria or pyrrole disorder. In these cases zinc deficiency signs can develop into more serious pathology. This could include mental health conditions like clinical depression, eating disorders, social anxiety and sometimes suicidal tendencies. As this condition can be inherited there are often signs of it in the family history. Often autism, ADHD and auto immune disease are spotted. The severe issues that develop are often a result of copper overload as copper is the antagonistic element that thrives in zincs absence. This condition can be tested for using a simple urine test through the post.

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Author: Sarah Hanratty

Sarah is a specialist practitioner at the Brain Food Clinic. She has a degree in Nutritional Medicine and is a certified Gut and Psychology Syndrome Practitioner. Sarah helps people to overcome physical and mental health issues using bespoke nutritional protocols.

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