Monday, May 24, 2010

Are All Zinc Supplements Equally Beneficial?

Zinc supplementation is one of the gray areas of natural health. One of the interesting facts about zinc is that the standard American diet usually supplies enough zinc, but the zinc in the diet is frequently not well absorbed. Absorption is also an issue with nutritional supplements.

In North America, most of Latin America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, the median daily intake of zinc is about 9 mg for women and 14 mg for men. Nutritional scientists estimate that the average woman needs about 8 mg of zinc a day (on average) and the average man needs about 13 mg. Since beef is a good source of zinc, you can at least get your zinc requirements even if you frequently dine at McDonald's, Whataburger, and Jack in the Box. Other zinc-rich foods include lamb, liver, most nuts and seeds (especially pumpkin, sesame, sunflower, alfalfa, celery seed mustard seed, and wheat germ), and most whole grains. When these foods are grown on alkaline soils in western Australia, much of India, and much of China, however, the foods themselves may be zinc-deficient.

Whether your body will absorb the zinc it needs from the standard American diet to take advantage of zinc benefits is another matter. Diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease, and other, rarer conditions all interfere with the absorption of zinc. Sometimes supplementation is necessary.

What supplement makers won't tell you is that, the more easily the zinc is absorbed, the more of the zinc compound they have to put in the supplement.

Zinc picolinate is better absorbed than zinc gluconate. Zinc gluconate is better absorbed than zinc citrate. Zinc citrate is better absorbed than zinc carbonate.

But when you take, for example, zinc picolinate, you are taking the picolinate along with the zinc. The more helpful the chemical entity combined with zinc is for absorption, the more it weighs. That's why you need to be very sure that you are looking at elemental zinc content on the label. However, the better zinc is absorbed, the more variably it is absorbed, too, so you'll need to take your zinc supplement for at least a few weeks to be assured of absorption.

Don't take your zinc supplement after eating whole grain cereals, whole grain bread, or a high-fiber meal. Your body can't absorb zinc or other trace minerals effectively when whole grains are in your digestive tract with them. Also, try to take zinc in combination with appropriate (small) doses of other trace minerals, most importantly, at least 1 mg of copper a day.

Read about Zinc Deficiency Symptoms and What to Do About Them.

Zinc Deficiency Symptoms and What to Do About Them

Zinc deficiency symptoms are a lot more common than one might suppose. It's not unusual to encounter some combination of:

  • Sticky eyelids that are not just crusty in the morning but sticky all day,
  • Scaly, inflamed patches of skin especially around the fingernails, at the corners of the eyes, at the corners of the mouth, and on the genitals,
  • Hair loss
  • Diarrhea
  • Mood swings, confusion, "bipolarity," and
  • Painful reaction to bright sunlight (photophobia).

All of these are zinc deficiency symptoms. The best way to know you don't have enough zinc, of course, is to have a blood test. If taking zinc gets rid of your symptoms very quickly, then you can be sure you had a zinc deficiency.

A blood test, however, is not the only way to find out whether you have been getting your zinc RDA. Another way is to put a zinc tablet on your tongue, then swallow. If you don't have any metallic aftertaste, you almost certainly are zinc-deficient. If it tastes bitter and metallic to you, chances are you may not need supplemental zinc.

The good news about zinc deficiency symptoms is that they are not hard to remedy. Here's a typical protocol:

Eat  zinc-rich foods oysters, beef, pecans, and Brazil nuts often.

Nutritional Supplements

  • Zinc: 30–150 milligrams per day, with bloodstream levels measured by the doctor several times a year to ensure adequate supply.
  • Copper: 1–3 milligrams per day.

Once a proper diagnosis is made, treating zinc deficiency is extremely simple and very fast. Two or 3 days of taking 30–150 milligrams of zinc usually reverses symptoms if the problem is really zinc deficiency.
Your initial dosage of zinc should be chosen by a doctor familiar with the disease. Your bloodstream levels of zinc should be monitored regularly. It is also important to take supplemental copper. High levels of zinc sometimes deplete the body’s stores of copper. Food sources of zinc such as oysters, beef, pecans, and Brazil nuts will provide additional zinc, although not enough to replace the need for zinc supplements, as well as copper supplements.

Next, What to Do When "Symptoms of Zinc Deficiency" Aren't Really Due to Zinc Deficiency.

When Symptoms of "Zinc Deficiency" Aren't Really Zinc Deficiency

Nutritionally, one of the interesting facts about zinc is that apparent symptoms of zinc deficiency may not be zinc deficiency at all.Symptoms resembling zinc deficiency are sometimes caused by infection with the Epstein-Barr virus or by Lyme disease, particularly if symptoms appear for the first time in adulthood. Infants who are given measles and hepatitis B vaccines at the same time sometimes develop Gianotti-Crosti syndrome, a condition with symptoms similar to those of zinc deficiency.

It's usually not a good idea to give zinc to babies. If you have reason to believe that you have been exposed to Epstein-Barr (for example, you suffer chronic fatigue), or if you spend a lot of time in the woods during the summer, don't immediately suppose that your symptoms are due to zinc deficiency. It may be better to consult a nutritionally oriented physician or an astute natural health practitioner.