Zinc is often found in multivitamins and prenatal supplements. It is used in our bodies to support immune function, reduce severity and duration of the common cold, and delay the progression of macular degeneration. It is also involved in numerous enzyme reactions and is required for growth and development, immune and neurological function, reproduction and regulation of genes and to stabilize the structure of proteins and cell membranes.
Although a severe zinc deficiency is rare, except in those with a genetic disorder, severe malnutrition or malabsorption, severe burns, or chronic diarrhea, marginal deficiencies are common in malnourished people, vegetarians, pregnant women, the elderly, and those with celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, colitis, and sickle cell anemia.
Zinc deficiency symptoms include impaired growth and development, skin rashes, severe diarrhea, immune system deficiencies, impaired wound healing, poor appetite, impaired taste sensation, night blindness, clouding of the corneas, and behavioural disturbances.
Some people that are on prescription drugs may deplete their store of zinc. Drugs that deplete zinc include: diuretics, anticonvulsants, iron supplements, penicillamine, ACE-inhibitor drugs, acid-reducing drugs, and oral contraceptives.
Zinc supplements can reduce copper levels, so look for a multivitamin that contains copper as well as zinc. Zinc supplements can also reduce absorption of antibiotics (tetracycline and quinolones), so separate intake of zinc supplements from these products by two hours. Since the average zinc intake is below the RDA and many conditions and drugs deplete zinc levels, a supplement should be considered. Most multivitamin and mineral complexes provide at least the RDA for zinc.
Foods that are rich in zinc include: red meat, shellfish, eggs, whole grains, and fortified cereals. Too much zinc can cause abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. High dosages of zinc supplements may reduce copper levels.