Frequent infections, skin problems, tiredness – a zinc deficiency can cause a lot. We explain what tasks the element zinc has in the body and how you can prevent a deficiency.
Zinc is a vital mineral for our body and is involved in numerous metabolic processes. It is contained in enzymes and is also active in protein reactions. It is therefore one of the most important trace elements in humans. Among other things, zinc ensures cell growth and wound healing in the body. It is also essential for the immune system and for reproduction.
Zinc contributes to your hormonal balance and, in sufficient quantities, ensures that your immune system can work properly. Your body can only store small amounts of the mineral zinc, around 1.5 to 2.5 grams. Around 70 percent of it is mainly stored in bones, in the skin, and hair. In contrast, there is little zinc in the blood. Therefore, you should consume it regularly through a balanced, healthy diet. This is how you can prevent a possible zinc deficiency.
Prevent zinc deficiency with healthy foods
You can prevent zinc deficiency with a healthy, balanced diet. Eat lean beef and pork, as well as cheese, milk, and eggs. They provide you with a lot of zinc. Fish and seafood – oysters and tuna, for example – also have plenty of them. Vegetables like spinach and peas are good sources of zinc.
If you prefer it vegetarian, nuts such as cashews, pecans, or peanuts as well as wheat or rye sprouts are well suited for zinc intake. Sunflower seeds also provide a vital trace element.
You can germinate, roast, and soak the food. In this way, the natural phytate content in the plants can be reduced. Phytate binds the ingested zinc in the human gastrointestinal tract and thus prevents it from being absorbed. This is why you should consume as little phytate as possible so that your body can absorb enough zinc. You can do this with a diet in which you eat little whole grains and legumes. According to the German Nutrition Society (DGE), the protein sources should be primarily of animal origin.
The recommended amount of zinc for the body
The DGE recommends the following reference values per day:
Women aged 19 and over: 7 to 10 mg per day
Men aged 19 and over: 11 to 16 mg per day
Children and adolescents from 10 to 18 years: 9 to 14 mg per day, whereby boys need more zinc than girls.
Pregnant women: 7 to 13 mg per day
For women who are breastfeeding: 11 to 14 mg per day
The values depend on the individual daily phytate intake. The more phytate you take in through food each day, the higher the zinc intake must be so that it can be adequately absorbed.
Possible symptoms of zinc deficiency
For example, if you often feel tired, exhausted, and have trouble concentrating, this could be a sign of zinc deficiency. If you suffer more from skin problems such as acne, flaky, very dry skin, or inflammation, you should have this clarified with your family doctor or dermatologist. This also includes brittle hair and nails.
Another indication of zinc deficiency can be impaired wound healing, as well as dry eyes and visual disturbances. If you permanently have too little zinc in your body, your sense of taste and smell can go on strike.
Permanent zinc deficiency may also affect your love life. It can lead to decreased libido, erectile dysfunction and cause problems with conception.
Neither of these symptoms is specific for a zinc deficiency; there can be other causes as well. Your doctor can determine this with a blood test, for example.
Who is more likely to suffer from zinc deficiency?
Zinc deficiency can occur, especially in people with inflammatory bowel disease. The absorption of the important mineral is disturbed here, for example, if you suffer from an intestinal disease or have an intolerance.
If you are a vegetarian, zinc deficiency can also be more likely. These forms of nutrition are often associated with an increased intake of phytate. This increases the risk of a zinc deficiency.
The absorption of zinc in the body is also limited in people who consume heavy alcohol. Zinc helps enormously in breaking down alcohol in the liver.
If you are a competitive athlete, you generally have a higher need for zinc. It breaks down lactic acid, which builds up in the muscles after a lot of exercises. There is also an inherited zinc deficiency that should be ruled out by a doctor.
Zinc as a dietary supplement
You can also get zinc through dietary supplements. The preparations often consist of vitamin C plus zinc. However, the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment advises not to exceed the maximum amount of 6.5 mg per day for food supplements. This figure already takes into account the intake of zinc from food. If you take in too much zinc overall, this, in turn, impairs the uptake of copper in the human organism. This is very important for the iron metabolism in the blood.
If you are unsure whether an additional zinc intake through dietary supplements makes sense, talk to your family doctor about it. The consumer advice center sees nutritional supplements with zinc supplements rather critically. There is still insufficient evidence that increased zinc intake improves body functions and provides better overall protection for the immune system against colds.