Zinc deficiency (also known as hypozincemia) refers to an insufficient presence of the essential trace element zinc in the human body. Unlike other minerals like iron and calcium whose presence is linked to particular organs, zinc is imperative from the point of view of maintaining a functional immune system, cell reproduction, and also in the reproductive process (fertility and conception). It plays an instrumental role in a large number of metabolic processes; specifically it is used in the production of enzymes. Zinc is perhaps best identified to help in preventing or diminishing the duration of a common cold or upper respiratory infection. Our body soaks up only about 30% of our total intake of zinc and hence the alarming occurrence of zinc deficiency especially amongst population in developing nations is easily explained.
The presence of some factors and conditions may result in the development of or pre-dispose the individual to develop zinc deficiency. Some high risk groups include vegetarians, elderly and malnourished individuals. Zinc is an element which is mainly got from our diet and these populations are most likely to consume foods which do not provide them with adequate amounts of zinc. In addition, lactating mothers may also develop this condition. This nutritional deficiency is also associated with malabsorption, diarrhoea, diabetes, alcoholism and chronic illnesses of the liver, kidneys. Sickle cell disease, acrodermatitis enteropathica and weight-loss surgery can also lead to hypozincemia.
Zinc deficiency can present itself through a number of symptoms, which broadly affect the immune system and the senses, both of which require this mineral. Patients will require a blood test to link the symptoms and hypozincemia.
- Losing hair (Alopecia)
- Skin lacerations
- Delayed sexual maturation and underdevelopment of sex organs (hypogonadism)
- Impaired growth in infants and toddlers
- Impotence and decreased sexual drive
- Susceptibility to contracting infections and allergies (weakened immune system)
- Poor healing of wounds
- Loss of appetite leading to anorexia
- White spots, bands, or lines on fingernails
- Mild anaemia
- Irregular menstrual cycle
- Problems associated with senses: loss of taste, smell, vision impairments (commonly night blindness), memory problems, distorted perception.
The cause and severity of symptoms determine the treatment course for an individual battling zinc deficiency. The most common way to increase the levels of the mineral in the body is to restructure the patient’s diet to include foods rich in zinc. Zinc is found in foods, such as include red meat poultry, shellfish, oysters, whole grains, beans, buts and fortified cereals. The health care provider may also prescribe zinc supplements especially in case of vegetarians and breast-feeding mothers. The most common recommended zinc intake is 8mg/day for women and 11 mg/day for men. The recommended dosage must be adhered to tenaciously as this mineral may cause toxicity.
If zinc deficiency is diagnosed and treated accurately and swiftly, it has a good prognosis track record and the risk of serious complications such as growth impairment, pre-mature delivery, vulnerability to life-endangering infections can be minimized.
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