ZINC, THE GENTLE STRENGTH and BALANCING MINERAL
by Lawrence Wilson, MD
© October 2012, The Center For Development
Zinc is one of the most interesting and fascinating minerals needed in our bodies. It is required for hundreds of enzymes that control functions as diverse as one’s eyesight, hearing, health of the skin, hair, nails, connective tissue, sexual function, digestion, immune response, vision and more.
Zinc is also involved in protein synthesis, a vital function, where it is required for several key enzymes in RNA and DNA synthesis such as RNA transferase. Let us examine the functions of zinc in more detail.
FUNCTIONS OF ZINC AND DEFICIENCY SYMPTOMS
Zinc plays so many important roles in the body they are hard to count. Instead of just listing them, I will list some of the major symptoms associated with zinc imbalance. I use the word imbalance rather than deficiency because the metabolism of zinc is tied closely to the metabolism of copper, selenium, chromium and other minerals.
Symptoms of Zinc Deficiency. These include:
Skin. These include stretch marks on the skin, varicose veins, and, in fact, most cases of acne, dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis, boils, vitiligo, skin infections and many others. They also often include white spots on the fingernails, although there are a few other causes of this symptom.
Girls experience even more acne at times of the month because their period regulates zinc and copper levels. When copper is higher than zinc, acne develops in many cases and is a symptom of a need for zinc and other minerals as well.
Yeast conditions. Zinc is critical for the immune response, and zinc opposes or antagonizes too much copper in the body. For these reasons, or perhaps others, a low tissue zinc level is highly associated with development of fungus and yeast conditions anywhere in the body.
Menstrual and Female Reproductive Difficulties. Zinc and copper are maintained in a delicate balance. Many menstrual irregularities such as PMS are related to imbalances in this area. We recommend zinc therapy, for example, for many cases of premenstrual syndrome and even for certain menopausal symptoms associated with so-called estrogen dominance. Zinc has a moderating effect on these health conditions that is sometimes remarkable.
Other conditions include cessation of the period in younger women who should have menstrual cycles, infertility, irritability and acne related to the period, and even some cramping associated with menstruation.
Too much zinc given during pregnancy can rarely induce a miscarriage, so be careful with zinc during pregnancy. The amount would need to exceed 50 mg daily or more to cause a problem, in most cases. The miscarriage may occur because too much zinc lowers copper excessively, which affects the estrogen level.
Growth And Development Of The Fetus. Zinc is critical is for growth and development, both in the womb and after birth. Thus, symptoms from birth defects to developmental delays of all kinds often have zinc imbalance, either as part or the entire cause. Short stature, delayed testicular development, undescended testicles, and other growth problems often have zinc as a part or the entirety of the cause.
Male Reproductive System. The prostate gland accumulates zinc more than any other tissue of the body. Seminal fluid or sperm contains significant quantities of zinc. Most male reproductive and prostate problems have zinc deficiency as part or as all of the cause.
These conditions may include prostatitis, enlarged prostate, prostate cancer and other metabolic conditions related to male infertility. They also include erectile dysfunction and some male hormone imbalances such as low testosterone and perhaps other hormone-related conditions in men.
Vision. Zinc deficiency is involved in most vision problems. Macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa and night blindness, iritis and other infections are among them. Eye doctors are about the only medical specialty that regularly supplements patients with zinc.
The retina of the eye is one of the riches tissues in zinc in the human body and one of the tissues most dependent on zinc, along with the male prostate gland and the intestines.
The Brain. Zinc is thought to be a calming neurotransmitter in its own right. Symptoms of zinc problems include hyperactivity, ADD and ADHD, anxiety, irritability, nervousness, emotional instability, mood swings, bipolar disorder and many other mental and emotional symptoms. Conditions such as epilepsy, seizures, schizophrenia and other severe emotional disturbances often have zinc deficiency as a part of their cause. Zinc is considered a “sedative mineral” due to its effect on the central nervous system.
Zinc is also required for higher mental functioning and for mental development of the neocortex or new brain. Zinc is therefore an essential mineral in nutritional balancing science for mental and spiritual development.
The Immune Response. I prefer the words ‘immune response’ instead of ‘immune system’ because all body systems are involved with immunity. Zinc is critical for this area of functioning, both in humans and in animals. It is helpful to prevent all infections and to treat skin infections and others. Those with AIDS, in particular, often benefit from zinc supplementation. Vegetarians often develop more infections because their zinc levels tend to be much lower.
Zinc is often given for colds, flu and many acute infections as it is generally helpful for these problems. It works closely with copper in the immune response.
Digestive system. Zinc is extremely important here. It is required for all digestive enzyme production. It is also required to rebuild the fast-growing intestinal tissue, and for the production of bile, and liver and pancreatic secretions. Ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, yeast infections, colitis, and many other digestive problems often have to do with low zinc.
Cardiovascular system. Zinc is required to give flexibility to the arteries and veins. Common deficiency symptoms include hardening of the arteries, high blood pressure, aneurysms, strokes, heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems.
Surgery and wound healing. Taking zinc before surgery can be most helpful to prevent complications such as infections, and perhaps even adhesions. Zinc is also required for wound healing, so it may help speed healing and prevent scarring, as well.
Mental development. Zinc is required for what is called on this website mental development. This is a specific process in which brain capacity increases, the immune response improves, the thymus gland either rebuilds or does not atrophy with age, and other changes.
Other. Zinc is essential for all connective tissue. Symptoms of imbalance or deficiency include problems with tendons and ligaments such as tendonitis, bursitis and, in particular, inflammatory symptoms. Zinc is a highly anti-inflammatory mineral needed to balance copper and other more pro-inflammatory substances in the body.
SOURCES OF ZINC AND A WORLDWIDE ZINC DEFICIENCY
Few good sources of bioavailable zinc exist today for very important reasons:
1. Most of the world’s soils are zinc deficient. This is a serious problem around the world. Zinc is not replaced enough on today’s soils in most cases, as it is a more costly mineral to fertilize with.
2. Hybrid crops produce more food per acre, but this means that each stalk of wheat or corn or vegetables has much less zinc than in earlier times when hybrids were not used.
3. Zinc and other trace elements are removed when wheat, rice, corn, sugar and even salt are refined. Sadly, most people are living on these refined and empty foods. For example, natural sea salt would provide some zinc, but most is thoroughly refined, which means the zinc is removed and sold separately. This is one reason table salt is a very poor quality food.
Some foods, especially frozen vegetables and perhaps meats, are sprayed with EDTA to retain their color. This chemical removes some of the zinc from the food, and this essentially prevents the zinc from “tarnishing”, which would discolor the food. However, this practice results in less zinc and other trace minerals such as chromium in the food.
4. Most babies are born low in zinc. This is because their mothers tends to be low in zinc, so the babies do not obtain enough in utero.
5. Vegetarian or near vegetarian diets are much lower in zinc. This is explained below, but the main reason is that the only good food sources of zinc are meats, especially red meats.
6. Stress depletes zinc very quickly, at times in minutes. This is part of the body’s response to stress. This fact is well known, for example, in burn units at hospitals, where zinc deficiency occurs quickly.
7. Special times in life require more zinc. This includes, childhood, puberty, pregnancy, breast feeding, and old age. Any stressful situation, during infections, and the presence of chronic illness will also require more zinc in the diet.
For example, diabetics need much more zinc. Also, low zinc in boys around the age of puberty is one reason they do not grow tall as fast as the girls at that age. Later, the boys catch up, but the boys are using their inadequate zinc to develop the prostate gland and testicles, and there is insufficient zinc to enable them to grow taller at that age, in many cases. This is so common it is considered normal today.
For all the reasons above, zinc deficiency is a major problem for everyone, throughout the world.
Food sources. Zinc is found mainly in red meats. It is found in chicken, turkey and even fish and eggs to some degree, as it is involved with all animal enzyme systems to some extent. It is not found much in the vegetable kingdom, and for good reason. It is not required there as much.
Among the vegetarian sources are pumpkin seeds and a few other vegetables such as kelp, dulse and other sea vegetables. However, in general, vegetarians are even more deficient in zinc, most dangerously, so because it is harder to obtain and utilize from vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and other vegetarian foods.
Other sources of zinc include skin ointments such as zinc oxide, Caladril and many others. Zinc is used often in these products because it has a soothing and healing effect on the skin. Head And Shoulders shampoo is also quite high in zinc. It is not the best form of zinc, but some is absorbed from the product. Zinc here is used to help overcome problems with dandruff, which is a fungal infection of the scalp. Zinc is excellent for this purpose, and less toxic than using Selsun Blue Shampoo.
IDENTIFYING ZINC DEFICIENCY
There are several ways to assess zinc status in the body. Serum blood tests are useless, in general, as zinc does not accumulate in the blood serum.
A few holistic doctors use white blood cell zinc levels to assess total body zinc. This provides some information. However, it is not too reliable.
Urine and feces. These methods of assessing zinc are not considered reliable because they depend too much on the last day’s meals, for example, and other factors such as absorption of dietary zinc.
In fact, most people are quite low in zinc, if not everyone today. Therefore, the question usually becomes how much supplemental zinc is needed, rather than whether the person is deficient or not.
ZINC ASSESSMENT AND SUPPLEMENTATION IN NUTRITIONAL BALANCING SCIENCE
According to the research by Dr. Paul Eck, Dr. Carl Pfeiffer and a few other zinc researchers, everyone requires more zinc. This should be obvious based upon all the symptoms discussed above. For this reason, Dr. Eck gave everyone a zinc supplement and recommended that everyone eat some animal protein, basically on a daily basis.
However, Dr. Eck found that zinc interacts with other minerals, so one must be careful about exactly how much zinc each person receives. He also found that the hair zinc level, like the serum and white blood cell zinc levels, are not reliable enough ways to decide how much zinc to supplement.
Instead, through much trial and error, as well as theorizing, he found that the sodium/potassium ratio on a properly performed hair mineral analysis is the best way to assess the need for zinc.
The hair zinc level. Hair tests often indicate an adequate level of zinc and this is deceptive, in my experience. An ideal hair zinc level is between about 14 mg% and 16 mg%. Fast oxidizers may have a slightly lower ideal hair zinc level around 13 or 14 mg%, in my experience.
Low hair zinc. A hair zinc level below about 13 mg% often indicates a more severe zinc deficiency. However, at times, a low hair zinc is caused by the body attempting to defend or compensate for a low sodium level or a low sodium/potassium ratio. The concept of defenders is more advanced, and discussed in the article The Theory Of Nutritional Balancing.
Elevated hair zinc. A hair zinc level greater than about 15 mg% is due, in our experience, to the presence of toxic metals, usually copper. The body may use zinc in some way to protect the body from the ravages of the other toxic metal.
An elevated hair zinc is almost never due to excess zinc in the body. Zinc poisoning is rare, and could happen due to occupational or some other exposure. This only occurs in zinc miners and others who are exposed to large amounts of zinc ore and zinc dust. There is simply not excessive zinc in the soil, the food, the air, water and other common places that overload would occur easily.
In a few cases, an elevated hair zinc level is found in those clients who are using Head and Shoulders Shampoo. While the hair level is high, this does not mean the body is too high in zinc. The zinc is basically on the scalp and skin, not all throughout the body.
Elevated zinc above about 25 mg% on a properly performed hair mineral analysis in which the hair is not washed at the laboratory may also be indicative of a tendency for violence. This is interesting and is still being researched at this time (2011).
Using the hair sodium/potassium ratio to assess the need for zinc. Dr. Eck brilliantly decided to use the Na/K ratio to quantify the need for extra zinc. As a rule, the higher the Na/K ratio above about 2.5:1, the more zinc that is given The amount varies from about 44 mg daily to over 130 mg daily when the Na/K ratio is above about 16.
The lower the Na/K ratio, the more zinc is also given. However, and this is critical, it must be given in conjunction with copper and manganese, and some vitamin C. Otherwise, giving zinc alone when the sodium/potassium ratio is low will tend to make the ratio lower, worsening the mineral balance. The amount of zinc given to those with a low Na/K ratio varies between about 16 to 50 mg, or even more if the Na/K ratio is less than about 1:1.
Zinc overdose symptoms. If one takes too much zinc in supplement form only, symptoms that appear similar to zinc deficiency will often occur. They may include prostatitis, vision problems, skin difficulties and more. Emotional symptoms may also occur, but are less likely.
The cause for these appears to be copper depletion due to excessive zinc intake. Interestingly, the symptoms appear very similar to zinc deficiency. I do not think symptoms are due to zinc biounavailablity, but this is possible if copper becomes depleted enough because zinc and copper are synergists, as well as antagonists. The remedy for the problem is to stop taking zinc and increase copper intake for a few days to a few weeks. This usually causes symptoms to clear rapidly.
RELATIONSHIPS TO OTHER MINERALS
Calcium, magnesium and zinc - the sedative minerals. Zinc, along with calcium and magnesium, are called sedatives because all three help inhibit excessive sympathetic nervous system activity. They all inhibit excessive brain activity. Zinc, in fact, is considered by some authorities to be a calming neurotransmitter in its own right.
Zinc tends to lower hair sodium levels. This is part of the complex mineral system of the body in which every mineral affects the level of other minerals in unique ways. This does not tend to affect serum levels, as these are regulated differently than the tissue levels of most minerals.
Zinc may raise or lower the hair calcium depending on the situation. In slow oxidizers, it powerfully helps lower calcium by helping to restore adrenal activity. Excessive zinc, however, may raise hair calcium by lowering sodium excessively.
In fast oxidizers, zinc has a parasympathetic effect that can help raise a low tissue calcium and balance elevated tissue sodium and potassium levels. Thus, overall, zinc tends to balance hair tissue calcium levels, just as it often balances potassium levels as well.
Zinc raises potassium in a slow oxidizer and tends to lower it in fast oxidizers. When the hair potassium level is low, taking zinc is far more effective in helping to raise it than taking potassium.
In fast oxidizers, zinc helps to slow the oxidation rate. Therefore, it tends to reduce the hair potassium level in a fast oxidizer. In this regard, zinc functions as an adaptogen element, which means that it tends to balance both a high or a low calcium level.
Zinc and the other trace minerals. This becomes complex. Basically, zinc can inhibit the absorption of the other trace minerals such as manganese, chromium and others. This is due to “competitive inhibition” at the level of the intestines.
This means that the same transporters that adsorb zinc through the intestines are used by the body to adsorb the other trace minerals. Therefore, taking extra zinc may inhibit the adsorption of the others.
However, zinc is synergistic or synergetic with many other trace minerals such as selenium, chromium and others at other levels of metabolism. In other words, having enough zinc present helps these other minerals to be used properly, including even copper. They work well together at certain functions in the body such as energy production in the Krebs cycle and specifically the electron transport system.