Delayed or stunted growthiStock/vgajic
Boyan Hadjiev, MD, certified in internal medicine and allergy and immunology, says not meeting certain growth standards, including dysfunctions in the immune system, can be a sign of zinc deficiency. He says studies following adolescent athletes, particularly gymnasts, have played a factor in understanding zinc deficiencies. “A combination of increased sweat loss with a decreased intake of certain foods” is something to look out for among athletes, says Dr. Hadjiev, as these actions can contribute to zinc deficiency. High-zinc foods include seafood like oysters, lobster, and crab; beef, chicken, and pork; nuts like cashews and almonds; and legumes such as chickpeas and kidney beans. These are other clues you aren’t getting enough vitamins (and might not know it).
Low energy and depression, as well as deficit diseases such as ADD and ADHD, have also been linked to zinc deficiencies, according to Dr. Hadjiev. He says on average men and women should not consume more than 40 milligrams on zinc per day, but dosages vary based on age and body conditions, such as pregnancy, or if one is breastfeeding. Lisa Moskovitz, RD, CDN, CPT, stresses a balanced diet to avoid a zinc deficiency. “A balanced diet, including plenty of vegetables, fresh fruits, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats, is the ticket for nourishing your body and maintaining proper health,” she says. These are healthy-eating secrets nutritionists won’t tell you for free.
Slow wound healingiStock/LiudmylaSupynska
Zinc, considered an “essential trace element,” plays many diverse roles in how the body functions. Slow wound healing is one of the more telling signs of a zinc deficiency. “A patient doesn’t walk into the door and say ‘I have a zinc deficiency,’” Dr. Hadjiev says. “You sort of have to figure it out. It’s subtle findings. There are so many different body systems that can be involved, so you have to be suspicious.”
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Rough and dry skiniStock/PositiveFocus
Experiencing skin conditions may also be a sign of zinc deficiency, particularly rashes. Moskovitz says if there are any suspicions you may be zinc deficient, you should consult with a primary care physician. Even listing the symptoms feels a bit like consulting WebMD. “The list of findings is very generalized. You can have abdominal pain, loss of hair, loss of appetite, delayed wound healing,” Dr. Hadjiev says. “You can be depressed, you can have eczema or dermatitis, especially if it’s around the mouth or the anus.” Try these home remedies for eczema relief.
“You can have diarrhea, which is a very common finding. It’s the most common finding,” Dr. Hadjiev says. While symptoms vary for everyone, Moskovitz reminds us that, typically with a zinc deficiency, “you would be experience the symptoms more often and continuously versus a sudden attack of nausea or diarrhea.” Here are home remedies to treat diarrhea.
While nausea may be a symptom of a zinc deficiency, it may also be a sign of an overdose as well. Overdoses would most likely occur from a zinc supplementation, Dr. Hadjiev says. “If you eat a ton of oysters, every day, it is possible. You need to take a lot of darn oysters. It would be difficult to exceed [recommended zinc levels] on just food.” Moskovitz agrees that it is rare to experience zinc toxicity on food alone, but warns of greater dangers than nausea and diarrhea, noting severe damage can be done to the stomach lining, and there is the risk of developing anemia.
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Appetite loss can also come with impairments of smell and taste when you are not getting enough zinc. “You can have symptoms that mimic anorexia,” Dr. Hadjiev says. “You can have symptoms that affect your mental function, including how you learn and how you perceive pleasure.” Hadjiev notes nervousness and difficulties concentrating as additional symptoms.
How to eat more zinciStock/Marco_Piunti
Some of the tastiest foods are also rich in zinc. Zinc-rich foods include oysters, beef, lamb, pumpkin seeds, nuts, chicken beans, and cocoa products. Zinc is also added to many breakfast cereals. Moskovitz reminds us that the most important factor to consider is that all nutrients are best consumed through diet first. “This ensures your body is getting balanced, sufficient nutrition.” However, people who follow strict vegan diets or have food allergies or severe gastrointestinal disorders may benefit from a supplement to prevent zinc defiiency. Moskovitz says if you are considering taking supplements it is always best to consult with a primary care doctor first, in order to avoid unhealthy or unwanted side effects.