Zinc, much like magnesium, is one of those nutrients that is critically important in hundreds of processes in the body. It is estimated that around 25% of the world population is actually deficient in this critical mineral. If you want healthy hormones, a strong immune system, and healthy tissues, you absolutely need to make sure your zinc levels are adequate. Not enough people know this, but there is actually a very simple method to test zinc levels in the comfort of your own home.
Another great way to start to tell if you may not be getting enough zinc in your diet, is by understanding its functions and how someone could become deficient in the first place.
Benefits Of Zinc
The benefits of optimizing your zinc levels are vast. Zinc is involved in so many processes from modulating the immune system to supporting healthy hormone production. These are foundational human processes that must be supported if you want to attain optimal health.
Zinc modulates the immune system by balancing the Th-1 and Th-2 branches of the immune system. This is important for coordinating the immune system in cases of imbalance such as autoimmunity and cancer.
Zinc also assists a protein called human cytokine interferon alpha that is responsible for inhibiting the replication of viruses within the body (1).
An imbalanced immune response is one of the number one causes of chronic inflammation in our society. By helping to balance and coordinate the immune system, zinc also helps to drastically lower inflammation for many people.
On top of this, zinc plays a critical role in the production of one of the body’s most important antioxidants, superoxide dismutase (SOD). SOD protects genes from becoming damaged, helps to detoxify the body, and further assists the immune system by protecting against viral infection.
It is a natural consequence that by reducing inflammation and improving immune coordination, zinc also improves the body’s ability to fight off cancer cells.
In addition to this, zinc actually plays an important role in regulation of the expression of the P53 gene. The P53 gene plays an important role in monitoring the cell division cycle and preventing cancerous growth (2, 3).
Chronic oxidative stress can cause damage to the p53 gene that renders it useless and leads to an inability to protect the genomic stability. In order to be active, p53 needs to bind zinc while other metals such as copper can displace zinc leading to p53 unfolding.
Reasons For Zinc Deficiency
Before we can even think about using supplemental zinc or consuming more zinc-rich foods, we must understand what causes our zinc stores to deplete.
Addressing these factors will make the zinc you do consume go much further in exerting its benefits in the body.
Leaky Gut & Poor Digestion
A commonly overlooked reason for poor zinc levels in the body, is that you are just not digesting your foods as well as you should. If you have a leaky gut or poor stomach acid production, it is likely you are deficient in several nutrients.
Zinc is also extremely important for healing and sealing the gut. So if you are deficient, it becomes a viscious cycle of inflammation and the gut lining will never heal.
Medications that damage the gut or inhibit stomach acid production can be another overlooked factor in poor zinc levels. Most prescribing doctors are unfamiliar with the long-term ramifications of these medications and how they deplete key nutrients and cause a number of health problems.
If you currently use or have a history of using things like prescription antibiotics, NSAIDS (Tylenol, ibuprofen, etc.), proton pump inhibitors, or antacids; you will definitely want to take additional steps to support digestion.
Poor Diet & Blood Sugar Imbalance
If you are simply not consuming nutrient dense foods, and instead rely heavily on processed foods, you are most likely lacking in several nutrients. Consuming zinc-rich foods and balancing blood sugar are critical strategies for ensuring you retain adequate levels of nutrients like zinc.
Finally, consuming a lot of grains, nuts, and foods containing phytic acids can quickly deplete the body’s zinc stores. Limiting your intake of these foods or at least sprouting them before consuming is important.
Zinc is important for a large number of biological processess and stress speeds up biological function. During times of elevated stress, zinc is utilized at a much more rapid rate, increasing your dietary need for zinc.
If you are noticing that you are experiencing high amounts of overwhelming emotions like anxiety, this could be due in part to low zinc levels. Of course several other nutrient are involved such as magnesium and B-complex vitamins.
Exposure To Toxins
Exposure to toxins like pesticides and heavy metals in the environment can interfere with zinc absorption and increase stress within the body. This depletes your zinc levels while simultaneously increasing your need, not a good combo.
Also, consuming high levels of copper can lead to an imbalance in copper:zinc ratios. This is not uncommon as copper is a common byproduct of industrial manufacturing and is often high in our city water. Additionally, high copper can come from drinking water from copper pipes and women having a copper IUD. Additionally, foods such as grains, nuts and seeds are high in copper and also contain phytic acids that reduce zinc absorption.
Copper and zinc work against each other to regulate certain functions in the body. Having high copper levels in relation to zinc can create many problems and you can read more about that in this article. Consuming a clean, healing diet, getting good water filtration and lowering your intake of copper-rich foods, and increasing your zinc intake are all powerful for rebalancing this ratio.
Signs Of Zinc Deficiency
After reflecting on your daily life and seeing if any of the causes above align with you, it is important to observe your own health for common symptoms of zinc deficiency.
The following is a list of common symptoms seen with zinc deficiency or copper:zinc imbalance:
How To Test
There are several ways to test your zinc levels. One that I am a fan of due to its simplicity and cost-effectiveness is the zinc sulfate taste test. All you do purchase a bottle of zinc sulfate liquid (this a good one), place a capful in your mouth, and observe the sensations in your mouth.
Below are the possible outcomes and indications:
You Notice No Metallic Taste: Zinc Deficiency
You Notice A Delayed Metallic Taste: Slight Zinc Deficiency
You Notice Slight Metallic Taste: Zinc Levels Are Adequate, But Could Be Higher
If you notice that you are expressing signs of slight to complete zinc deficiency, you will need to be intentional about the foods you eat to drastically increase zinc intake. You will also need to avoid dietary habits that deplete zinc levels like consuming high amounts of sugar, grains, and processed foods.
Consuming plenty of zinc-rich foods is a great start to optimizing your zinc levels. The following graphic outlines some of the best sources of zinc you can consume.
You will notice that various seeds made the list which seems counterintuitive since I mentioned phytic acid containing foods lowering zinc levels. However, these foods contain really high amounts of zinc that may counteract this effect. Buying these in their sprouted forms is ideal.
When it comes to quickly balancing zinc levels in the body, supplementation is very helpful. Just as with many supplements, zinc comes in many forms. My favorite is Zinc Glycinate because it is what’s called a chelated form. This is important because it is very easily absorbed by the body unlike many other forms.
The recommended daily allowance for zinc is between eight to eleven milligrams for most adults. However, for functional health most progressive nutritionists and doctors recommend between 20-40 mg/daily. You can use your results from the Zinc Sulfate taste test to determine how much supplemental zinc to consume.
If your results indicate a slight or complete zinc deficiency, 40 mg daily is likely more suitable for you while 20 mg daily may be more suitable for someone who is trying to maintain optimal levels.
Zinc is critical for overall health and quality of life. It is important to assess your daily life and physiological wellbeing to determine whether or not you are getting enough of this vital mineral in your diet.
The Zinc Sulfate test is an incredibly simple and cost-effective way to determine your zinc levels at home. If you are showing signs of zinc deficiency, than it is important to follow a blood sugar stabilizing healing diet and improve your stomach acid, enzymes and overall digestive function. You will also want to reduce your exposure to some of the higher copper foods such as nuts and seeds and increase zinc rich foods (fish and grass-fed meats) and take additional zinc supplements.