by Lynn Hinderliter CN, LDN
Zinc is found in higher levels in our body than any other trace element but iron. In the days when we were eating an unrefined diet and leading relatively stress-free lives, this was not a problem: organ meats (especially liver) soybeans, fish, spinach and mushrooms are excellent sources, as are wheat germ, almonds, oysters and clams.
However, processing and refining, overcooking and soil depletion where the crops are grown or the animals are raised affects the levels in our foods. A zinc deficiency is therefore becoming ever more common. The standard American diet provides an average of 8 to 11 mgs, while the MDR for a healthy adult is 15 mg. I am not personally a great fan of MDRs, by the way, since they are based on the needs of a perfectly healthy person living the life of Reilly, which hardly corresponds to anyone I know!
One sign of the importance of zinc in the body is that colostrum ( the first milk produced by a mammal to nurse her baby) contains between 70 and 900 mgs in just over 3 oz.
A simple signal of a zinc deficiency is the presence of white spots on your finger nails. Stress depletes zinc, and I find I can usually date a stressful occurrence by the whereabouts of the spots on my nails. A more scientific test is to use a small amount of liquid zinc, and hold it in your mouth for 30 seconds. If it tastes terrible and you immediately spit it out, your zinc levels are fine. But if you are depleted, the liquid will taste like water to you.
Zinc deficiencies are associated with many serious health conditions such as prostate problems, diabetes, infertility (zinc is present at very high levels in seminal fluid), fatigue and poor wound healing. Also poor appetite ( a deficiency affects the sense of taste and smell), anorexia and bulimia, and high cholesterol.
It was a sick child’s refusal to swallow a pill that led to the discovery of one of zinc’s most interesting applications as a cure for the common cold. The little girl in question was being treated for childhood leukemia, and instead of swallowing a zinc tablet she let it melt in her mouth. To her father’s surprise, her cold symptoms disappeared within hours without anything else being done.
Skeptical that this really could be effected by zinc, he and a Doctor friend set up a study with 146 volunteers, app. half of them being given a placebo. 90% of those given the zinc tablet reported they were completely free of cold symptoms after 7 days, where only 49% of those given the placebo could say the same. 11% of those taking zinc reported results within 12 hours, and a further 22% had results within a day! These are convincing figures. There are now zinc lozenges on the market which taste really good, as well as some that are mixed with other cold-defeating substances such as Echinacea, Propolis, Vitamin C etc.
Make sure you don’t use zinc sulfate, as it can burn the mouth.
The importance of zinc in infancy is now being demonstrated by research linking a zinc deficiency to autism – the mechanism suggested is that zinc is needed to play a role in the detoxifying of heavy metals, that vaccines play a role in the onset of autism, that vaccines are implicated because they contain toxic levels of mercury in their preservatives, and that many autistic children have high copper, low zinc ratios.
If the foods I mentioned above are not part of your regular diet, it might be wise to make sure your supplement contains an adequate amount of zinc. I also carry zinc lozenges handy during cold season, because the sooner one takes them after the onset of a cold, the more effective they prove to be.
Like so many nutrients, Zinc appears to have a dark side if taken to excess.
Unless you are under the care of a Doctor who says otherwise, in my opinion it is unwise to take more than 50 mg of zinc daily for an extended period of time. Some research is suggesting that while a moderate amount of zinc can help prostate problems, too much can encourage the onset of prostate cancer.
It is also important to bear in mind the relationship between Zinc and Copper. Like a see-saw, many health problems (Rheumatoid arthritis, immune imbalances, Alzheimer’s. even cancer) appear to be affected by the proper balance of zinc and copper.
In any serious disease condition, it is wise to have a mineral assessment done – for a hair test – since operating in the dark can mean a decision made on the wrong side of the scale.
A detailed report of the role of Zinc in Autism at http://www.healing-arts.org/children/mtpromotion.htm
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