Zinc is essential for DNA repair. Even mild zinc deficiency causes DNA strands to break (1), which increases the risk for cancer and other health problems. According to Professor Emily Ho at Oregon State University, DNA damage occurs even when the zinc deficiency is too mild to be picked up by a blood test. In her research, zinc supplements reversed the damage.
Zinc has a profound influence on our genes and the enzymes they make. That is why zinc deficiency affects so many things from skin to brain to hormones.
Zinc comes mainly from red meat and is difficult to absorb. Could you be zinc deficient?
The power of zinc
Zinc is one of the most powerful natural treatments available to us. Studies show that zinc treats acne as well as antibiotics (2). Zinc improves depression (3) and reduces inflammation in the body. Zinc is also an effective treatment for hair loss, eczema, gastric ulcer, high cholesterol, and infertility. How can zinc do so much?
Virtually every enzyme system in our body depends on zinc. Our immune system depends on zinc. So does our insulin receptor, and our brain cells. The body needs zinc to be able to make thyroid hormone, oestrogen and testosterone.
Zinc works at such a fundamental level of our physiology, that it can sometimes have seemingly paradoxical effects. For example, zinc is one of the best ways to block the excess testosterone that causes unwanted facial hair in women. At the same time, zinc increases the production of testosterone in men.
Zinc deficiency is common
According to the World Health Organization, 30% of the world population is deficient in zinc. Many of those people are in developing nations, where the food supply is inadequate. But zinc deficiency does occur in developed nations, especially in young women who avoid meat and take the Pill (see below).
The primary food sources of zinc are red meat and shellfish. Vegetable foods such as spinach (think Popeye) and pumpkin seeds provide only a fraction of the zinc available from red meat, so non-meat eaters struggle to get enough. High-phytate grains such as wheat prevent zinc absorption.
Some prescription medications deplete the body of zinc
Zinc deficiency can be caused by the Pill, calcium supplements, iron tablets, anti-inflammatories, blood pressure medication and ulcer medication.
Be safe about supplementing zinc
Red meat eaters probably do not need supplementation, unless they take one of the above medications.
For people who do need extra zinc, a multivitamin may be the best option. Most multi-vitamins contain 5-10mg zinc, which is a safe dose for long-term. Higher therapeutic doses of 20-50mg can be used, but care should be taken not to deplete the body of copper or iron. Taking zinc with food reduces this risk of nutrient depletion. Taking with food will also prevent the most common side effect of zinc supplements, which is nausea.
Test for zinc and copper
A blood test for zinc and copper is available from one of our Naturopaths.
Please read 7 Ways Zinc Rescues Hormones.
Song Y et al. Zinc Deficiency Affects DNA Damage, Oxidative Stress, Antioxidant Defenses, and DNA Repair in Rats. J. Nutr. 2009. 139(9):1626-1631.
Michaëlsson G et al. A double-blind study of the effect of zinc and oxytetracycline in acne vulgaris. 1977. Br J Dermatol. 97(5):561-6. PMID: 145237
Szewczyk Bet al. The role of zinc in neurodegenerative inflammatory pathways in depression. 2006. J Trace Elem Med Biol.20(1):3-18. PMID: 16632171
Maret W et al. Zinc requirements and the risks and benefits of zinc supplementation. 2006. J Trace Elem Med Biol 20 (1): 3–18. PMID: 16632171