Why Zinc?

Such an important mineral but not everyone knows about its use in the body. It’s important for our immunity to help us combat disease, and it’s vital for the expression of genes. We also need it for our nervous system to function well and studies have found that low zinc levels have been connected with attention and motor disorders in some children.

Zinc is involved as a cofactor in over 300 reactions in the body so it’s an important little element. Not to be taken for granted.

Lack of zinc in the body can cause symptoms such as poor immunity, hair loss, weak nails, poor smell and taste. It is not something that we routinely test in GP surgeries. The test is pretty costly to the NHS and not done unless there are special circumstances. Interestingly the World Health Organisation think up to 80% of the world population may have insufficient zinc levels. Now this may be true in the developing world but we are seeing increasing levels of malnourishment in the Western world too now. This can happen with poor nutritional intake and junk food diets.

 The contraceptive pill can lower zinc levels and people who drink more alcohol may be at higher risk of low zinc. Chronic stress, malabsorption in the digestive system, diabetes and some forms of arthritis may be associated with lowered zinc. Also lower levels may be found in older people and pregnant women.

The World Heath Organisation suggests pregnant women in the developing world should be offered routine supplements with iron, zinc and folate. It is always best to test to see if you need a supplement before you take them, as there is the risk of taking something you don’t need. I’m always a big fan of food before pills anyway. In the case of iron supplements, if you take more of it that your body needs the effects can make you feel unwell. Strangely, even causing symptoms mimicking iron deficiency. So you have to be careful and do what is right for you and your own individual nutritional needs. It’s interesting that the WHO have picked up on zinc, and it’s interesting that we don’t routinely test zinc during pregnancy in the UK.

Low zinc is also thought to play a possible role in allergy problems too. Zinc is important in the way you store Histamine in your body. This is the substance that is released in allergies and hay fever and why doctors prescribe ANTI histamines to counteract the symptoms. Zinc deficiency can allow more histamine to be released into the surrounding body tissue. A high level of histamine can make you more sensitive to allergic reactions.

Lastly, zinc competes to be absorbed in the gut with other minerals such as Magnesium and calcium. So if you drink a lot of milk containing calcium it might be blocking the zinc coming in. Also, those who eat a vegetarian diet may be up to 50% more likely to have low zinc. Phytates are found in grains and lentils and they also compete for zinc.

Where do we find zinc? It’s in pumpkin seeds, beef and lamb, cashew nuts and chickpeas.

Poor little zinc, so important, so undervalued and lots of other nutritional elements competing with it to get into the body. If you ask your GP to test your zinc you might be politely declined. Unfortunately the NHS does not stretch to test zinc routinely at present and is not likely to anytime soon. There are functional tests you can have with a good nutritional therapist to assess your risk of low zinc which don’t involve a blood test.

I’ve had these done recently and found my levels to be a bit low. Might explain my hay fever being so bad this year?

Laura Quinton