Category: Illness or disabilities
Introduction and description
Zinc is classified as an essential mineral of "exceptional biologic and public health importance".
There are 2-4 grams of zinc distributed throughout the human body. Most zinc is in the brain, muscle, bones, kidney, and liver, with the highest concentrations in the prostate and parts of the eye. Semen is particularly rich in zinc, which is a key factor in prostate gland function and reproductive organ growth.
Not only are we made of zinc, but zinc is essential in a large number of our functions - digestion, respiration, and of key importance in the immune system.
Zinc imbalance can be of both deficiency and overdose.
- Zinc deficiency affects about two billion people in the developing world and is associated with many diseases. Because it is so closely tied with the immune system, we can become more susceptible to just about every disease. As zinc is key to growth, in children it causes growth retardation and delayed sexual maturation, contributing to the death of about 800,000 children worldwide per year.
- Consumption of excess zinc can cause ataxia, lethargy and copper deficiency.
According to Wikipedia “ the world population is at risk of zinc deficiency. Countries vary from 4% to 73% in the rate at which their populations are exposed to this risk. Zinc deficiency is the fifth leading risk factor for disease in the developing world. Conservative estimates suggest that 25% of the world's population is at risk of zinc deficiency”
It is extremely difficult to know whether you are deficient in zinc or not. “There is a paucity of adequate zinc biomarkers, and the most widely used indicator, plasma zinc, has poor sensitivity and specificity. Diagnosing zinc deficiency is a persistent challenge.”
Immune system problems - Zinc deficiency can be a factor in enabling numerous diseases and illnesses to take hold and develop.
Zinc deficiency in humans decreases the activity of serum thymulin (a thymic hormone), which is required for maturation of T-helper cells. T-helper 1 (Th(1)) cytokines are decreased but T-helper 2 (Th(2)) cytokines are not affected by zinc deficiency in humans. This shift of Th(1) to Th(2) function results in cell-mediated immune dysfunction. Because IL-2 production (Th(1) cytokine) is decreased, this leads to decreased activities of natural-killer cell and T cytolytic cells, which are involved in killing viruses, bacteria, and tumor cells. PMID: 17449604
In essence, every Bacterial infection, every Viral infection and every Parasitic disease can be 'caused' by zinc deficiency because the immune system has been compromised. If you glance at the number of diseases and illnesses that are caused by these, then you will realise that there are very few left.
The immune system also plays a major role in helping to fight fungal infection and toxins that enter the blood stream, as such all illnesses and diseases resulting from these - and there are many - could in a sense be 'caused' by zinc deficiency. Heavy metal poisoning is counteracted by the immune system.
Finally, as we can see from the extract above, Cancer can be caused by zinc deficiency. Zinc deficiency is implicated in the pathogenesis of Esophageal Squamous Cell Carcinoma (ESCC), for example, but numerous other examples exist.
Metallothioneins (MTs) are involved in protection against oxidative stress (OS) and toxic metals and they participate in zinc metabolism and its homeostasis. Disturbing of zinc homeostasis can lead to formation of reactive oxygen species, which can result in OS causing alterations in immunity, aging, and civilization diseases, but also in cancer development. It is not surprising that altered zinc metabolism and expression of MTs are of great interest in the case of studying of oncogenesis and cancer prognosis. PMID: 23050852
Cell rejuvenation and replacement problems - zinc controls cell replacement as old cells are replaced with new ones. There is thus the potential for numerous diseases and illnesses here, the following list is illustrative not complete:
Dysmenorrhea – that is period pains. Zinc in is needed to form the lining of the womb. If you seriously starve yourself as many anorexics do, then there will be no formation of the lining of the womb and periods will stop
- Sensory deterioration - Taste, smell and sight deterioration. Chronic zinc deficiency can lead to macular degeneration and blindness, hearing loss and loss of the sense of smell, simply because cells are not being replaced
- Cognitive function deterioration – memory and reasoning can be impaired and lead to dementia, as dying cells are not replaced. During a baby's growth Zinc deprivation can create cognitive deficits.
- Psychological disorders - Plasma zinc level has been associated with many psychological disorders. “An increasing amount of evidence suggests that zinc deficiency could play a causal role in the etiology of depression”. Brain damage causes many psychological problems and brain damage can occur when dead cells are not replaced
- Fetal abnormalities - Zinc deficiency can result in the malformation or malfunctioning of many organ systems especially when it occurs during a time of rapid growth and development when nutritional needs are high, such as during infancy and during fetal development
- Difficult childbirths and abortions - maternal zinc deficiency can upset both the sequencing and efficiency of the birth process. An increased incidence of difficult and prolonged labor, haemorrhage, uterine dystocia and placental abruption has been documented in zinc deficient animals. A review of pregnancy outcomes in women with zinc deficiency reported that out of every seven pregnancies, there was one abortion and two malfunctions, suggesting the human fetus is also susceptible to the teratogenic effects of severe zinc deficiency.
- Infertility - Zinc is required by men to produce testosterone. Thus, zinc deficiency can lead to less testosterone production in men and hence show up with the symptoms associated with low testosterone.
Enzyme system problems - Zinc is found in at least 100 specific enzymes, thus the potential here for illness is enormous. For example, the enzyme carbonic anhydrase converts CO2 into bicarbonate and the same enzyme transforms the bicarbonate back into CO2 for exhalation through the lungs. Without this enzyme, this conversion would occur about one million times slower at the normal blood pH of 7 or would require a pH of 10 or more. So, crudely put, malfunction of this enzyme would result in breathlessness and respiratory distress.
Nutritional deprivation- People on a 'normal' diet containing red meat, game, shellfish etc and who are not starving or bulimic or anorexic, are generally less likely to suffer from zinc deficiency, because these foods contain adequate quantities of zinc, however vegetarians in areas of zinc depleted soils can be at risk. Vegans are at greater risk as they are more reliant on just vegetables. Furthermore if you are sick and needing more zinc to help you recover you are even more at risk if you are vegetarian and a big cereal eater
. .... Among the 14 children recovering from tuberculosis, dietary phytate reduction resulted in higher fractional absorption of zinc .... No effect of phytate reduction was seen in the well children .....These preliminary results indicate that phytate reduction may be beneficial in improving zinc nutriture in groups with increased zinc requirements ... PMID: 11110854
Phytate in this context roughly equates to bran. Both vegetarians and vegans, as well as meat eaters are also at risk if they consume large amounts of Bran.
- Bran contains phytates in large quantities and the fibres “may interfere with zinc absorption....there is some evidence to suggest that more than the US RDA (15 mg) of zinc daily may be needed in those whose diet is high in phytates, such as some vegetarians”
- Mineral imbalance - There is a vital balancing act that takes place between zinc, copper and iron in our blood. In blood plasma, zinc is bound to and transported by albumin (60%, low-affinity) and transferrin (10%). Since transferrin also transports iron, excessive iron reduces zinc absorption, and vice-versa. A similar reaction occurs with copper. Thus an imbalance in the minerals in general can produce an imbalance in zinc.
For the same reason, the use of Mineral supplements, especially iron tablets, can cause both deficiency and overload
- Vitamin imbalance- Plasma zinc levels have been found to be dependent upon vitamins A and D. This suggests that a Vitamin A or D deficiency [vitamin imbalance] could cause a secondary zinc deficiency.
Physical trauma - thus any physical damage to the organs of the body, which has reduced the amount of zinc being absorbed or increased the need for more zinc. Surgery, for example, can cause mineral deficiency in general. Intestinal disease, kidney disease or transplant, liver disease or transplant all impact both the need for zinc in the repair process and the body's ability to actually absorb zinc.
Bariatric surgery (weight loss surgery) can produce severe zinc deficiency. Bariatric surgery is performed on people who are obese and is usually accomplished by reducing the size of the stomach with a gastric band, through removal of a portion of the stomach or by resecting and re-routing the small intestines to a small stomach pouch (gastric bypass surgery).
Heavy metal exposure – can cause zinc deficiency, for example
Funk, Day, Brady (1987) Displacement of zinc and copper from copper-induced metallothionein by cadmium and by mercury: in vivo and ex vivo studies Comp Biochem Physiol C 86 (1) 1-6
Iron can have a negative effect on zinc absorption, if given together in a supplement, whereas no effect is observed when the same amounts are present in a meal as fortificants. Cadmium, which is increasing in the environment, also inhibits zinc absorption. PMID: 10801947
Poor soils – soils that have been inadequately managed or left to become deserts of soil pumped up with nitrogen fertiliser produce plants that are very low in zinc. Good farming practise that relies on manure or organic fertilisers produces plants with zinc, but poor industrial scale farming produces zinc poor plants. It is easy to assume that western style factory farming methods produce zinc deficient soils and indeed research appears to bear this finding out. But there is, according to Wikipedia, evidence that almost half of the world’s cereal crops are deficient in zinc and many agricultural countries around the world are affected by zinc deficiencies not just the countries that are intensively farmed. In China, zinc deficiency occurs on around half of the agricultural soils, affecting mainly rice and maize. In India, according to Wikipedia, zinc-deficient soils occupy almost 50% of the agricultural area.
Artificial Food colourings - Tartrazine is a synthetic lemon yellow azo dye primarily used as a food coloring. It is also known as E number E102. And it appears to affect zinc levels. Other artificial food colourings may do the same. The zinc deficiency then affects cognitive processes and leads to hyperactivity ADHD and so on
Dental fixative - bizarre though this may sound dentures can cause overload
Zinc deficiency is a worldwide problem, whereas excessive intake of zinc is relatively rare. Many patients are exposed to zinc on a regular basis through dentistry as a result of its use in certain restorative materials, mouthwashes, toothpastes and, notably, denture adhesives. Of particular importance to dental professionals are various case reports concerning the neurologic effects of excess zinc intake by patients who routinely use large quantities of zinc-containing denture adhesives. This review presents relevant information concerning the use of zinc in dentistry.
Pharmaceuticals - a number of pharmaceuticals disrupt the iron/zinc/copper balance. Chief amongst these are the group of medications called statins. But although statins are an important group numerically [the number of people affected], a large number of other pharmaceuticals are also implicated.
10% used diuretics or laxatives to reduce weight within the trimester preceding the survey. Vitamin E, zinc and iron were the most widespread deficiencies affecting 47%, 44% and 27% of the population, respectively. PMID: 21090277
- Anti-histamines – for example “cimetidine is a well-recognized zinc chelator, and zinc deficiency has been implicated in causing optic neuropathy. PMID:10394044”
- Antibiotics – dusrupt the mineral balance in general and can result in overload or deficiency, or misfunctioning - overdose of the antibiotic “antibiotic activity of an antibiotic agent increased significantly with concomitant use of Mg salt ... Similarly, Zn salt increased the activity of an antibiotic PMID: 16380359"
It may be worth adding that in zinc deficient children and adults, Vaccines can have an adverse effect, as can Antivirals, as the immune system is not able to muster the forces needed to create the necessary antibodies. As such vaccinationprogrammes in developing countries may do more harm than good if the nutritional aspects have not been catered for.
The most obvious treatment is to address the cause. There are also two basic treatments available for zinc deficiency:
- Mineral supplements - pills with the mineral in or powders and medicines. This is not the ideal approach, but in cases where organ damage or severe depletion has occurred a boost may be needed
How it works
Zinc deficiency, as we saw, produces cognitive changes which may be reversible or irreversible brain damage. Thus all the psychoses and other experiences from zinc deficiency are ultimately caused by brain damage.
The observations include not only hallucinations, but also healing experiences with the related foods, if relevant. This information comes from Pubmed.
References and further reading
N Engl J Med. 1977 Jul 21;297(3):168-9. Chemotherapy and possible zinc deficiency. Cutler EA, Palmer J, Kontras SB. PMID: 865591
All of the observations listed for nutritional deprivation also apply to this category as nutritional deprivation leads to zinc deprivation, they have not been repeated again
- Assessment of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi status and heavy metal accumulation characteristics of tree species in a lead-zinc mine area: potential applications for phytoremediation 018311
- Bioaccumulation of heavy metals in plant leaves from Yan׳an city of the Loess Plateau, China 018313
- Dairy products vitamins and mineral 005906
- Fish shellfish and minerals 005486
- Fish, heart and blood circulatory problems and mercury 012482
- Heavy metal poisoning and brain damage 006198
- Heavy metal stress in alders: Tolerance and vulnerability of the actinorhizal symbiosis. 021021
- Human zinc deficiency: discovery to initial translation 023527
- Influence of amendments and aided phytostabilization on metal availability and mobility in Pb/Zn mine tailings 018258
- Lentils, peas, beans and health 005533
- Nutrition for brain recovery after ischemic stroke: an added value to rehabilitation 020757
- Pellagra causes and cures 005528
- Physiological and proteomic responses of different willow clones (Salix fragilis x alba) exposed to dredged sediment contaminated by heavy metals 020524
- Phytoextraction and phytostabilization potential of plants grown in the vicinity of heavy metal-contaminated soils: a case study at an industrial town site 021288
- Selenium and toxin [acrylamide] induced eye damage 013094
- Zinc and depression 006870
- Zinc deficiency 006866
- Zinc deficiency and disease 006871
- Zinc, Iron and Copper imbalance and diabetes 006874
- Zinc, iron and the elderly 005527
- Amiodarone, vision loss and hallucinations 005079
- Fish oil and other things 005795
- Hallucinations from antibiotics and zinc 005796
- Hallucinations from arsenic and heavy metal working 006905
- Mercury amalgam fillings and schizophrenia 012330
- Metal transporters in intestine and brain: their involvement in metal-associated neurotoxicities 019575
- Mineral deficiency causes mental illness after extensive small bowel resection 006909
- Pellagra causes and cures 005528
- Zinc Sulfate 020404
Out of time
- ACE inhibitors, diuretics and zinc deficiency 006873
- Artificial food colouring and ADHD 005657
- Dietary supplements and death 005793
- Metals and brain disease 006160
- Metals and Parkinson's Disease: Mechanisms and Biochemical Processes. 029499
- Paneth cell granule depletion in the human small intestine under infective and nutritional stress 027677
- Statins and zinc and iron imbalance 006872