Zinc nutrition - a Cinderella in medicine, a hidden jewel.

Zinc nutrition is a very recent field of interest and has yet to gain a wide medical audience. It deserves better.

Measurement of zinc only became widely available after the invention of atomic absorption spectrometry by the Australian scientist Sir Alan Walsh in the early 1950s.

I had the good fortune years ago, to be taught to use intravenous zinc sulphate. This gave me the opportunity to see such responses as a young boy's persistent eczema just disappear within days of his first dose of zinc.

Another example was an adult who reported digestion better, depression improved and head clearer, after his first dose. His energy increased by 50% after the second.

Zinc supplements of liquid zinc sulphate, or chelated zinc capsules, are not particularly dramatic in effect by comparison.

Zinc nutrition health importance

Our body contains only about 3gm. Of zinc. This tiny amount is nearly all in hundreds of enzymes, being used, not just stored away for a rainy day. We store calories, vitamin A and B12 very extensively, but not zinc.

What is stored, is on metallothionein metal binding protein. Sam Queen from the Institute for Health Realities, emphasizes building this protein up.

Zinc has multiple pivotal roles in metabolism. One zinc containing enzyme, carbonic anhydrase, is responsible for making acid in our stomach from carbon dioxide. It thus influences the absorption of metal ions such as calcium and magnesium, dependant on this acid.

Programmed (gene directed) cell death, or apoptosis, is an extremely important process involving zinc. The important homemade antioxidant enzyme ZnCu superoxide dismutase, needs zinc.

Making messenger RNA from our genes, also needs zinc. It thus influences protein manufacture in general.

Zinc has very special electro chemical properties, which allow it to be used in such applications as the sacrificial zinc anode under steel hulled ships. Our body uses it because of the same properties, in over 300 enzymes.

Zinc atoms are a very important messenger within our cells, stored in little containers and released within the cell to tell other processes whether or not to proceed.

Zinc nutrition and immunity

Our immunity system has two major arms - cellular and humoral.
The cells include granulocytes and lymphocytes.
The lymphocytes come as B and T varieties.
T lymphocytes come as helper and suppressor types.
T helper cells come as Th1, Th2, Th3 to Th17 even.

Phew! Now down to the nitty gritty.

Th1 cells fight viruses and bacteria, Th2 fight parasites. A cell can gobble and kill a virus or bacterium, but parasites are too big.

Fighting parasites involves making mucus so they lose their grip and inducing itch so that we scratch them away. These are also typical features of allergy reactions.

It appears that resource allocation5 on the part of our immune system, determines that if one of these T helper cells is increased the other will be decreased.

Some nutrients seem to favor one or other side of the balance between Th1 and Th2 cells.

Zinc and small doses of vitamin E, help to restore balance when people are Th2 dominant (with allergy, plus infections from Th1 suppression.)

Zinc nutrition level is a very important determinant of immunity.

In zinc deficiency, signs and symptoms include....

Common pointers to zinc deficiency are gastro oesophageal reflux and doing a lot of burping when digesting food, both due to inadequate acid.

Zinc deficiency signs and symptoms are usually quoted as ...

cessation of growth in children
loss of lean body mass in adults
reduced appetite and food intake
impaired immune functions
impaired resistance to infections
impaired taste and smell
night blindness
delayed wound healing
skin, nail and hair changes - including acne , eczema
reduced physical activity
behavioural disturbances
delayed sexual maturation

I think that being dazzled by oncoming lights when driving at night, is also a symptom of deficient zinc nutrition.

You can check yourself for collateral evidence. Look at your fingernails. White spots, transverse white bands and vertical ridges can all indicate zinc deficiency.

In menstruating women, the transverse white bands may be because their zinc drops before the menstrual periods.

The painful little cracks people get on the ends of their fingers can be a symptom of zinc deficiency. Even if you use NuSkin, diaper ointment or Lac-Hydrin, consider whether you need a zinc supplement as well.

It may also be a part of the causes or results of...

AIDS, anorexia, arthritis, autism, birth defects, defective bone mineralization, diabetes, eclampsia, erectile dysfunction, impaired learning, low birth weight, macular degeneration, mental lethargy, peptic ulcer, PMS and postpartum depression, prostate enlargement, sickle cell anaemia and stretch marks.

Zinc deficiency and cancer

More than half of all human malignancies involve p53 mutations.
This tumor suppressor called the "guardian of the genome," is normally able to either stop cells with DNA damage from multiplying, or to signal them to undergo apoptosis - gene directed hara-kiri (suicide.)

Zinc deficiency alters healthy P53 protein so it can't attach to the DNA.

Immune surveillance is the checking of all cells to eliminate potentially dangerous or damaged ones. This is carried out by wandering cells which read the messages on the surface of cells, including their electrical potential.

Zinc deficiency lessens this function².

Assessing zinc nutrition status

12% of the American population are zinc deficient, so this assessment is often warranted.

In health our body keeps the concentration of zinc in our blood⁴ very constant, even in the face of deficiency. Serum zinc is therefore not a very useful measurement.

This is also so in acute illness, because like iron, zinc drops rapidly now. This is probably part of a scorched earth policy on the part of our immune system, to deny invading germs essential nutrients.

Because the growth rate of hair and the composition of white blood cells depends on zinc status, zinc concentrations in these tissues are inherently invalid as a measure of status, although they may respond to supplementation.

That is, poor zinc nutrition means hair grows less, rather than growing normally with less zinc per hair.

A better method to diagnose zinc deficiency is to assess the effect of zinc supplements on suspected zinc deficiency symptoms, or zinc Dependant bodily function. This is much easier to observe when zinc is given by injection.

I use a taste test for zinc deficiency. Malcolm Cooper, my naturopath mentor, developed taste tests for iron and selenium, using a low dose chewable chelated iron tablet and sodium selenate drops. Derek Bryce-Smith wrote about zinc taste testing in his book “The Zinc Solution.”

You can buy zinc solution for this taste test, sold as “zinc tally.” It is 1:1000 ZnSO4 7 H2O – hydrated zinc sulphate. I get people to quickly put about 5ml into their mouth and then move it around gently, concentrating on the taste. They signal to me at the first hint that it is not just pure water. I time from when it goes into their mouth until this first hint.

If they haven't signaled by 10 seconds, the test is over and I tell them to swallow it (their first dose of zinc.)

The later they taste it and the less disgusting the taste, the more likely they are to be zinc deficient. It should have an immediate bad taste which lingers and can't be disguised.

Another good test, for more marked deficiency of zinc, is saliva testing for total protein (using urine test strips.) Thanks for this to Malcolm Cooper.

This is only valid if your mouth is healthy. Extensive gum disease can result in high protein levels from bacteria and inflammation, masking any effect of zinc deficiency.

Our genes (DNA) copy off messenger RNA (mRNA) to control manufacture of proteins by our cells. This requires zinc.

There are over 400 proteins in healthy saliva, and the study of these (Proteomics) is leading to tests for various diseases. This test is much simpler and readily performed with Ames or Boehringer-Mannheim strips.

2+ protein is good. Less supports suspicion of zinc deficiency.

Foods containing zinc, nor not, as the case may be...

Seafood and meat are good sources for zinc nutrition. Whole seeds of all sorts, either sprouted, leavened or cooked, are next best.

Australia is a flat old continent, with soils washed out over millenia, and not renewed by extensive glaciation during the recent ice ages.

The amount of erosion here can be visualized by looking at Ayers rock (Uluru,) standing there above the present surface of the land. This lump of sandstone was a valley once, which filled with silt, turned into stone and remained after the surrounding land was weathered away.

Australian soils are infertile, with multiple trace element deficiencies including of zinc. We are not alone in this, and zinc deficiency contributes to the problem of diarrhoea and respiratory illnesses in many underdeveloped countries.

Trace element deficiencies in soil cause trace element deficiencies in our food chain.

Zn (zinc) as a medication

Zinc lozenges may be of some use in treating colds³.Zinc acetate in daily doses of over 75 mg was found to be effective. It is of use in malnourished children with diarrhoea and respiratory infections.

Zinc is a very important part of the treatment for depression, dementia, prostate, acid reflux, primary dysmenorrhoea and lots of other conditions.

Zinc is recommended for treatment of acute infective diarrhoea in children in underdeveloped countries¹, and the same may well apply to poorly nourished children anywhere, perhaps even in overconsumptive malnutrition.

Zinc toxicity - too much of a good thing in zinc nutrition

Pouring metal in a non ferrous foundry, people are at risk of inhaling fumes and getting metal fume fever.

Oral zinc supplements are unlikely to cause imbalances if no more than 50mg. of elemental zinc is taken per day. The label will say the amount of zinc or elemental zinc as well as the (larger) amount of whatever salt or chelate of zinc it is contained in.

Zinc nutrition and mercury toxicity

Mercury exerts its toxic effects partially by occupying sites where zinc or magnesium should be, but not doing their job for them.

If you have dental fillings of mercury amalgam, your requirement for zinc is likely to be considerably increased, even severalfold.

For a good study of mercury amalgam fillings, see the Richardson report.

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1. http://www.jpeds.com/article/S0022-3476%2811%2900284-8/abstract

2. Allen JI, Alterations in human natural killer cell activity and monocyte cytotoxicity induced by zinc deficiency
J Lab Clin Med. 1983 Oct;102(4):577-89.

3. Harri Hemilä Zinc Lozenges May Shorten the Duration of Colds: A Systematic Review The Open Respiratory Medicine Journal, 2011 (5) 51-58

4 A consecutive series from my records Nov 1989 to May 1991 which I recently unearthed, was ...
female aged 46 serum zinc 11.0 reference range 11-18 micromol/litre
female aged 43 serum zinc 9.0
male.. aged 51 serum zinc 10.0
female aged 76 serum zinc 8.0
male.. aged 47 serum zinc 9.0
female aged 36 serum zinc 11.0
male.. aged 49 serum zinc 10.0
female aged 53 serum zinc 9.0
male.. aged 54 serum zinc 8.0
female aged 77 serum zinc 10.6
female aged 27 serum zinc 8.8
female aged 28 serum zinc 9.0

I was ordering this test to check the validity of observation of dense white spots on fingernails followed by the zinc taste test.
The latter are quite adequate, and it is many years since I ordered a serum zinc level. It is too insensitive, missing lots of less severe deficiency.

The other problem with it is that the reference range has been derived from a population including mildly zinc deficient people. Dr. Carl Pfeiffer used a range of 14 to 23 (90-150mcg/dl,) derived from his patients treated to optimal function.

An early worker in this field, Dr. Cees Van Tiggelen wrote in 1983...

"By default of a better method the estimation of the ratio serum Zn/serum Cu is probably the best practical indicator of zinc deficiency, pointing to the accompanying relative copper toxity."

He found this reduced compared to normal, in people with alcohol brain damage and Alzheimer dementia, but not in dementia caused by multiple strokes. His paper can be read in full, for a fee, at


Working as a geriatrician in Gippsland in Victoria, he had been impressed with the high prevalence of pre-senile dementia in local farmers. He suspected their careless use of the blackberry sprays 24D and 245T could be partly responsible, from experience with veterans of the 1962 to 1975 Vietnam war with agent orange toxicity.

He tested one chap's copper and zinc, found them elevated and low respectively, and then enlisted four volunteers whom he tested 5 days before and 5 days after using the sprays. Two of them, who were the ones with initial low zinc and high copper, had reduced copper excretion for the first 3 days after using the spray.

He surmised that the sprays were acting as a copper ionophore, dragging copper into the persons' cells, leading to displacement of zinc from metallothionein and so zinc deficiency plus copper toxicity.

From zinc nutrition back to home page

Back to role of zinc nutrition in gastrooesophageal reflux

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23775705 and http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24715076 are more recent reviews on zinc for the common cold.

5. The “triage theory”: micronutrient deficiencies cause insidious damage that accelerates age - associated chronic disease.


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