Zinc – Roles, Deficiency & Symptoms


Zinc is the second most abundant trace element in the body after iron. It plays a critical role in the normal functioning of the body and is integrated with several enzyme systems. Immunity, cell division, and reproduction are important biological functions of Zinc.

Unfortunately, the prevalence of Zinc deficiency is very common in developing countries with 61% of the population at an increased risk of low dietary Zinc intake [1], [2], [3].

Functions of Zinc

1. Boosts your immunity

Zinc plays a central role in the immune system and its deficiency increases the susceptibility to a variety of pathogens and infections. Zinc is crucial for the normal development and function of immune cells such as lymphocytes and neutrophils that protect us from different kinds of infections. In different studies, it has been found that Zinc supplementation can reduce the incidence of Upper Respiratory Tract Infections (UTRIs) [4].

2. Helps in wound healing 

Zinc deficiency is associated with impaired wound healing. Zinc plays a major role in regulating every phase of the wound healing process from membrane repair to countering the damaging effect of oxidative stress [5], [6].

3. Helps in the management of diarrhea 

The positive action of Zinc in the management of diarrhea is thought to be due to the regulation of intestinal fluid transport. In addition, Zinc induces the production of antibodies and lymphocytes (white blood cells) against intestinal pathogens that cause diarrhea. Clinical studies have also shown that Zinc supplementation may reduce the incidence of diarrheal episodes [7], [8], [9].

4. May slow the progression of Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD)

Evidence supports the role of Zinc with antioxidants for slowing the progression of age-related macular degeneration. Macular degeneration associated with age is a leading cause of visual loss. Zinc is thought to be beneficial due to its role in the metabolic function of several important enzymes in the retina [10], [11].

Effects of Zinc Deficiency

A Zinc deficiency may result in loss of immunity, cell growth and a slowdown of metabolic activities.

1. Growth retardation

Zinc plays an important role in cell growth and differentiation. It is also essential for numerous metabolic activities required for normal growth [12]. Thus, its deficiency may cause growth retardation. 

2. Infertility in male

Zinc deficiency may affect fertility due to reduced levels of male sex hormone testosterone [13]. Zinc deficiency also has a negative effect on sperm quality.

3. Frequent infections

Zinc plays a central role in the immune system, and its deficiency increases the susceptibility to a variety of pathogens and infections. 

4. Alopecia

Zinc deficiency has been reported in patients with alopecia and its intake has been found to inhibit hair fall [14].

How to Combat Zinc Deficiency?

Indian Council of Medical Research recommends a daily Zinc intake of 12 mg for men and 10 mg for women. Zinc requirement for pregnant and lactating women increases to 12 mg while children of growing age (13 – 17 years) require 11-12 mg of Zinc for maintaining growth.

If you are experiencing symptoms of Zinc deficiency, fret not. Include these Zinc rich foods in your diet to satiate your daily requirement –

  1. Pumpkin Seeds – 7.9 mg
  2. Cashews – 6.0 mg
  3. Flax Seeds – 4.3 mg
  4. Almonds – 3.0 mg
  5. Whole Wheat Flour – 2.9 mg
  6. Eggs – 1.4 mg

In Conclusion…

Zinc plays a critical role in the normal functioning of the body and is integrated with several enzyme systems. In order to maintain a healthy immune system, help wound healing, manage diarrhea and slow progressive age-related vision impairment, one must ensure adequate intake of Zinc in their daily diets. There are several abundantly available food sources rich in Zinc and yet the prevalence of Zinc deficiency is very high in developing nations.  Include Zinc rich food to fulfill Zinc requirement of the body and march towards a deficiency-free nation

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[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3702335/
[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2820120/
[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3702335/
[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9701160
[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2820120/
[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5793244/
[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2820120/
[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20856116
[9] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5450879/
[10] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2820120/
[11] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3277606
[12] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5712499/
[13] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2800928/
[14] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2861201/