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Zinc: Forgotten Mineral? Best Zinc Foods, Supplements, And Secrets.

Sep 01, 2018
 

Summary.

That's boring...

"Zinc?"

Yes, zinc...

Zinc is another mineral, just like magnesium. I've written an extensive blog post on magnesium before.  

"Why should I worry about that complicated stuff, such as a mineral as zinc?"

Great question...

I'll tell you why:

Zinc is pretty easy to understand. And if you're taking in too little zinc, the deficiency is easy to fix.

Yes really.

Fixing that mistake deficiency can have huge benefits for your health (I'll tell you soon.)

Having mineral deficiencies is like having a problem with the software in your computer.

If you don't know how to fix that software problem, you'll spend hours upon hours fixing stuff.

And yet, an expert can simply tell give you a quick fix, even over the phone.

I'm like that for zinc - a "technician" who can give you easy-to-follow steps. Why? Well, treating (possible) mineral problems is the same as a software problem.

You just need to know the right steps.

So I'll tell you exactly what you need to know about zinc, and how to fix possible problems.

You might think: "why should I care about zinc in the first place?"

Because zinc is definitely not boring:

In fact, zinc is highly exciting. To get you worked up, let's first consider some of zinc's benefits:

Zinc increases your overall energy levels, helps you sleep deeper, strengthens your immune system, boosts your gym performance, and improves your well-being and thinking-ability (such as memory).

That's just a short list of zinc's benefits...

Ready to sign up yet?

There's more though:

Zinc helps you prevent many diseases such as diabetes, Alzheimer's, and several autoimmune diseases.

And from an evolutionary perspective, additionally, zinc plays a major role in what made us typically human.

While that statement sounds "mystical", it really is not...

Our ancestors - which were not Homo sapiens (yet) - started consuming animal foods that contain great quantities of highly absorbable minerals more than two million years ago.

Yes, that's two million years, not two thousand.

These minerals, combined with high-quality fatty acids, have been essential to our ancestors' brain development. The presence of brain-stimulating nutrients has allowed for the eventual development of human beings - Homo sapiens - from our primate ancestors such as chimpanzees and gorillas.

Over the course of millions of years, our ancestor's brains grew bigger and bigger, reaching a peak around 30,000 years ago. Somewhere in the last 15,000 years, humans went the wrong way though: we started relying on plant foods more and more.

Relying highly on plant foods creates problems because the foods that have the best absorption qua zinc are animal foods such as oysters, red meat, lobster, and crab.

Plant foods - while containing lots of zinc in absolute terms - need to be specifically treated in order to be properly utilized by the human body. Example? Grains need to be soaked and cooked for you to be able to get a proper zinc-value out of these foods.

But even with good treatment or processing, plant foods are still inferior for getting adequate zinc levels - plant zinc absorption levels cannot touch those of animal foods.

So what's the solution?

Eat more foods that contain highly absorbable zinc.

You might say "I don't want to..."

In that case, there's one solution:

People who are unwilling to consume lots of zinc through animals foods - and mostly rely on plants for their zinc intake instead - are highly recommended to test their zinc status through a lab test as well as considering zinc supplementation.

The golden standard of zinc lab tests is a "blood plasma" or "blood serum" test. The blood plasma test is the better option here.

If you're considering this option, read the specific section on that topic included in this blog post.

Zinc supplementation is easy and inexpensive - but getting the dosage right is more difficult. Zinc interacts with other minerals in your body such as copper and iron. Taking a very highly-dosed zinc supplement can thus do more harm than good.

Contrary to my earlier assessment that zinc may be "boring", nothing could thus be farther from the truth. Zinc is not a side-issue.

Let me tell you why:

Two billion people on this planet have sub-optimal zinc levels. Yes, that's billion with a "b" - equaling more than 25% of the people on this planet...

Consequence?

Tens of billions of IQ points are lost on a worldwide scale due to zinc deficiencies - which are inexpensively curable.

Zinc deficiencies, moreover, literally kill people as well. To be more specific, almost 200,000 children die on a yearly basis due to diarrhea that's directly preventable by getting adequate zinc in their bodies. 

How do you know whether you're low on zinc?

Signs of a zinc deficiency are being sick often, having a poor immune system, feeling down and depressed, anxiety, having poor memory and focus, recovering poorly from stress, poor skin, and low sleep-quality.

Simply put: you're missing out in life by not getting your zinc levels handled.

Want to know more?

Read this entire blog post (in several sessions if you have to). 

Want a simple infographic that describes the 10 most important lessons I got from reading hundreds of studies on zinc? Subscribe below:

Zinc: Forgotten Mineral? Best Zinc Foods, Supplements, And Secrets.

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Table Of Contents:

Zinc Basics:

1. Understanding Zinc Through Understanding Our (Human) Past
2. Zinc's Overall Health Benefits--And Diseases Affected By Zinc.

Optimizing Zinc Intake:

3. The Best Zinc Foods And Your Daily Zinc Needs
4. Zinc Deficiency Signs And Prevention
5. Supplementing With Zinc?
6. Measuring Your Zinc Levels - Lab Tests

Finishing Touch:

7. Conclusion: Zinc Is Not Just An Afterthought.

1. Understanding Zinc Through Understanding Our (Human) Past.

Why talk about zinc's influence on your health in the first place? 

To correctly understand the role of zinc in your health I need to take a detour. So let me tell you a story - a narrative of our human past. If you've been reading my blog, you've probably read several times that humans evolved in Africa roughly 200,000 years ago.

We've gone through lots of hardship and difficult periods since that time. Between 195,000 and 130,000 years ago, for example, we lived through a mini-ice age in Africa.[1; 2] During that time, Africa was a lot dryer and cooler than it is today.[3; 4]

(The exact timing of these events varies)

Another ice age existed between 115,000 and 11,000 years ago. We only had a few small periods in which most of the continents on our planet were very warm. Large parts of Northern Europe, North America, and the Northern parts of Asia were subsumed under ice.

Fortunately, human beings had a companion during these hundreds of thousands of years. That companion was (and is) shellfish.[5-8]

Shellfish have the advantage of being able to survive in much cooler temperatures.[9] In fact, the quintessential shellfish, the oyster, often grow better in cooler temperatures. 

The human brain and shellfish are a perfect match: tools assist human in their "hunt" for these premium foods.[10-14] It turns out that shellfish are extremely high in brain-stimulating nutrients, such as iodine, selenium, iron, copper, and you guessed it: zinc.[463]

In fact, shellfish are so nutritionally precious that humans even have become territorial because of the exploitation of marine food sources. Shellfish rich territories became heavily defended by tribes of human beings who settled there.[12] 

Of course, humans relied on other foodstuffs as well, such as meat, tubers, and eggs. My point is, however, that there's a shift towards more animal foods compared to our primate ancestors.

Humans are not the first species that has relied more on animal foods though.

Why?

Let's take an even wider perspective...

For millions of years, shellfish has already been a companion for the different predecessors of the human species: hominins.[443; 444; 455-463]

To be more precise: already since 2.6 million years ago, our ancestors began eating meat.[464] As a result, our brains began growing. 

Unlike our primate ancestors, such as chimpanzees and gorillas, our human hominin predecessors started relying less and less on plant food.

As you probably know, our primate ancestors such as gorillas thrive in rainforest-like areas where there's plenty of vegetation. Gorillas and chimps don't rely on meat consumption all that much. Only 3-5% percents of their diet consist of meat, such as ants.

The two most important examples of species that preceded us are the Homo erectus and Homo habilis. Human beings evolved out of these two species (with intermediary steps that I'm not going into right now).

The Homo habilis lived about 2.1 million and 1.8 million years ago - and is specifically known for its tool use. The Homo habilis uses stone tools to butcher and skin animals, for example. That Homo habilis had a brain size of roughly 700 to 800 cubic centimeters and weighed about 50 kilograms.

The brain of the Homo habilis makes up 1,5% of its lean body mass, which is much greater than its previous ancestors (such as chimpanzees or gorillas)

(Sadly enough, the Homo habilis is now extinct.)

You can view the Homo habilis below:[466]

Next, there's the Homo erectus who lived between 1.8 million and 200,000 years ago. The words "Homo erectus" can be translated as "upright standing human". The homo erectus thus existed simultaneously with human beings for a while.

Observe the Homo erectus below:[467]

I hope you can see that through the development of the Homo habilis and Homo erectus, our predecessors slowly became more human-like.

In fact, the secondly displayed Homo erectus has a brain size to lean body mass ratio of 1,6 - 1,7%. Human beings, finally, have a brain size to lean body mass ratio that's much higher, approximating or exceeding 2%.

I'm using a lean body mass ratio calculation because human beings - as Homo sapiens - started accumulating more and more body fat, even as a fetus.

As humans, our brain size to our bodyweight ratio is thus much smaller than our brain size to lean body mass ratio.

Specializing in brain-development has thus placed human beings at the top of the food chain - as apex predator.

So what's my point?

In summary, our very early human predecessors started incorporating more animal food into our diet - millions of years ago - with easily absorbable minerals.

That food did not only include shellfish,game, but also turtles, alligators, and (non-oily) fish, which are all good zinc (and other mineral) sources. Even extremely large herbivores were hunted, such as elephants and mammoths.

As an interesting fact, the practice of meat and shellfish consumption is already observed in our hominin predecessors 2 - 1.5 million years ago.[456; 464; 468; 469] Of course, remember that eggs and meat are two other common ancestral zinc sources.

Zinc is one of the minerals that could be consumed much more efficiently by our transition from a mostly herbivore to an omnivore diet.


African lakes such as these are one
key to understanding our human past. These lakes
are rich in shellfish and mineral-rich vegetables.


Why does that human location matter? Well, zinc is a trace mineral that is not stored in the human body in any great quantity. There are also incidations that just consuming vegetation cannot explain why hominin brains developed the way they did.

You thus need to consume this mineral on a steady basis to avoid a deficiency. For that reason, I'm going to supply you with a full review of zinc's health benefits in the next section.

Oh yeah, one important disclaimer:

There are probably strategies that are more important to your health than trying to optimize yours zinc intake. Making sure you're getting enough sunlight, optimizing your sleep quality, and avoiding artificial light at night come to mind. 

With this blog, it's not just my intention to give you lots of highly-useful information, but also to tell you what's important and what health strategies to prioritize.

Simple...

Return To Table Of Contents

2. Zinc's Overall Health Benefits--And Diseases Affected By Zinc.

The list of zinc benefits is huge.

It's therefore not surprising that zinc deficiency - a topic we'll come back to in a next section - has such a huge influence on your health. But first I'll give you a list of all the zinc benefits in existence.

Ready?

Let's go...

  • Zinc improves the amount of deep sleep you get[38-40; 52-56; 58-60] 

    Yes...

    That's right.

    Increasing deep sleep zinc enhances the overall quality of your sleep. Why? Deep sleep is one of the most restorative parts of your sleep (together with the periods in which you dream). Deep sleep is necessary for physical healing and the formation of memories. 

    How does zinc affect deep sleep?

    The zinc you ingest can directly pass into your brain.

    Having good zinc levels are also associated with having a proper sleep length - which consists of 7-9 hours of sleep for most individuals. Of course, there are "freaks of nature" who can get away with much less sleep...

    When supplemental zinc is given to people who have a deficiency you'll sleep up to an hour longer each day. In addition to improving overall sleep quality, the time it takes to fall asleep is also decreased when you have an optimal zinc intake.

    There are indications that taking zinc from foods slightly better results for improving sleep quality than supplements.[57]

    I'm very wary of "health experts" who oversimplify sleep issues by thinking that just magnesium or just wearing blue-blockers will solve clients' every problem. The truth is that sleep issues can originate from many different causes.

    Again, sleep is not an afterthought (even though many people in modern society treat it as such):

    Not getting enough high-quality sleep puts you at risk for getting diabetes, cancer, and heart disease (at least, in the long run). Poor sleep also increases your chances of overeating, lowers (cognitive) performance, and makes you slightly depressed. 

    You thus need to prioritize sleep. Yes, the need to priotize sleep is an objective fact. Read my blog post with the 50 best sleep tips to learn more about prioritizing sleep.


    "Poor sleep? Low zinc? Not for me human, du to my carnivore diet..."

  • Zinc increases your energy levels[96; 102-108; 305; 306; 372]

    How?

    First of all, zinc will increase the levels of several thyroid hormones in your body. The thyroid gland is located at the front of your neck and is essential for keeping your body's overall energy production high. 

    Once you're low on zinc you're more prone to have lower energy levels. Having low zinc levels can literally cause thyroid problems such as "hypothyroidism". Hypothyroidism is more commonly known as an "underactive thyroid".

    If you currently have thyroid problems, zinc can help reverse that condition. How? Zinc helps convert the inactive thyroid hormone T4 into the active T3 hormone.

    Don't try to remember these hormones names though--you only need to know that your body's cells can use that T3 hormone better.

    Another mechanism by which zinc can increase energy production is removing a compound called "nitric oxide" from your mitochondria.[304] Mitochondria are the energy-producing factories of your cells.

    Nitric oxide prevents your mitochondria working at full capacity - and zinc thus helps solve that problem.

    But there's more:

    In children, having adequate zinc will stimulate growth.[27; 28]  Without sufficient zinc, children's bodily growth will be stunted. Stunted growth is especially dangerous as the problem can be irreversible.

    Zinc will also help children who are underweight increase their body mass. Zinc does not only have benefits for the body mass of children though:

    Zinc stimulates appetite.

    People who have adequate zinc levels are much more prone to increase their overall nutrient intake. How? With a zinc deficiency, you're more likely to under-eat because your appetite is lower - risking becoming underweight.

    The problems of zinc deficiency are especially visible if you've got anorexia. Anorexic people are more prone to have a zinc deficiency - leading to a vicious cycle of under-eating because zinc deficiency suppresses your appetite. 

    Of course, under-eating leads to low energy in the long-run.

    Next, zinc can lower excessive amounts of unhealthy fatty acids in your cells, such as those found in vegetable oils. An excess of these fatty acids is dangerous to your energy production.

    Bottom line?

    Zinc helps improve your overall energy levels by making your thyroid organ healthier, improving your thyroid hormones, stimulating appetite, and making your cells healthier.

    That's a big win...

    Next:
  • Zinc keeps your nervous system healthy.[193; 194; 470; 471]

    Zinc helps the cells in your nervous system communicate, and helps new nervous system cells grow. 

    It's therefore not surprising that zinc deficiency problems have been linked to health conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, an impaired brain development, and mood disorders.

    Having low zinc levels in your body may also make you more susceptible to autoimmune disease. 

    The effect of zinc on your nervous system should not come as a surprise, given that I've talked about the essential role of nutrients such as zinc for developing bigger and more efficient brains in our ancestors...
  • Zinc acts as an antioxidant in your body.[75; 195; 196; 472]

    To understand the term "antioxidant", let's first take a quick detour:

    As a byproduct of energy generation in your body, what are called "reactive oxygen species" are created. These reactive oxygen species can damage cells, quicken aging, and put you at risk for getting many modern diseases.

    Zinc can counter excessive "reactive oxygen species" as an antioxidant - inhibiting the (possible) negative effects of "reactive oxygen species". 

    Additionally, zinc boosts the levels of the most important antioxidant in your body, called "glutathione". People who have low zinc levels have less glutathione available in their bodies.

    Glutathione is absolutely essential import to your overall health.

    Why?

    Let me give an example:

    With sufficient glutathione, you're better able to get rid of heavy metal toxins in your body. Heavy metals such as lead or mercury can be found in paint, tooth fillings, makeup, among others. You can also get exposed to heavy metals through the off-gassing of industrial processes.

    The bottom line is that that glutathione helps detox processes in your body, and protects against aging. 

    Simple...
  • Zinc increases reproductive health and fertility.[92; 169-180]

    All right, the serious topics.

    Hold tight...

    Let's first talk about women.

    (It should not come as a surprise that I find women more interesting right?)

    The more oxidative stress you have - or "free radicals" - the less fertile you become as a woman.

    And there's more:

    Zinc helps maintain a healthy menstrual cycle and ovulation. If you're zinc deficient, your monthly eggs are of lower quality and the development of the (prospective) children is disrupted. 

    Zinc is also necessary for proper sexual development, moreover, when you're entering your teenage years as a woman.

    Additionally, zinc is important during pregnancy. Having adequate zinc levels in your body, for example, can reduce the occurrence of an early birth of your child. Your child's birth-weight is also increased, and the chances for prolonged labor reduced when you've got sufficient zinc in your body.

    Zinc is thus a big win-win during pregnancy.

    How about the role of zinc in male fertility?

    In studies with male rats, zinc can improve libido. Unfortunately, that effect has not yet been proven in human beings. Many men nevertheless report that zinc improves their libido.

    What do human studies tell you about the relationship between zinc and fertility?

    Infertile males, in general, have much lower zinc concentrations in their sperm than fertile men. If you supplement with zinc as a man, you'll significantly increase the amount of sperm during an ejaculation, the health of the sperm, and even the movement capacity of the sperm.

    Interestingly enough, free radicals are more plentiful if you've got poor sperm. Remember that a previous zinc benefit stipulated that zinc has antioxidant properties. Even in your sperm, zinc works as an antioxidant, preventing free radical damage.

    Male fertility has been declining for many decades now. Low zinc levels may thus be one of the reasons men are getting less fertile over time...
  • Zinc enhances athletic performance.[90-99; 101; 102; 160; 161; 259-261]

    You might know about athletes using zinc supplements to increase their performance. Athletes have good reasons for that strategy...

    Why?

    First, there's "testosterone", which many of you know is a hormone. If you're deficient in zinc, your testosterone levels will become lower. While testosterone is present in (much) higher quantities in men than women, both sexes need optimal testosterone levels to feel and perform well.

    Increasing your zinc intake can help you deal with a testosterone deficiency, and sometimes even fully resolve the problem (if zinc deficiency is your only problem causing low-testosterone levels.)

    There are more athletic zinc benefits though:

    Testosterone will improve the amounts of muscle mass that you carry, your overall strength, recovery after workouts, and also your general well-being. 

    Additionally, zinc stimulates a compound called "IGF-1". Don't worry about that complicated name. IGF-1 stimulates overall growth in your body, which included your muscle cells. 

    Zinc also reduces your fatigue levels. Lower fatigue helps you recover quicker after workouts. Zinc even helps repair your tissues after exercise. 

    What's even more astounding?

    Intense exercise depletes zinc all by itself. When you exercise a lot you're thus going to need a higher zinc intake compared to individuals who do not exercise heavily.

    Can I give more zinc benefits?

    Sure...

    In men, zinc also boosts a hormone called "DHT". DHT is actually the most male-like hormone in your body. Another benefit is that zinc increases the levels of "growth hormone", which acts as an anti-aging hormone. 

    Zinc deficiency is thus one of the reasons why people spend lots of time in the gym without getting great results.

    Even in elderly people, zinc increases how well they're able to move in their daily life - which is kind of their "athletic performance". 

    (I hope you're observing by now that zinc is a mineral that's important for your all-around health. Living with a zinc deficiency is like attempting to drive a car while continually pushing your break).


    Zinc makes you strong as a rhino - in the gym...

  • Zinc helps prevent cancer.[198-207; 314]

    How?

    Zinc is essential in the creation and functioning of so-called "natural killer cells". Natural killer cells are a specific type of white blood cells that are specialized towards cancer prevention.

    Many cancer patients have low zinc levels. While having low zinc levels does not prove that an absence of zinc causes cancer, the relationship is interesting because zinc has been shown to inhibit the creation of cancer cells.

    And there's more proof that zinc plays a role in cancer:

    The course of different types of cancers (and their prevention) can be affected by zinc our zinc intake. Examples include breast cancer, prostate cancer, and pancreatic cancer. 

    (If you don't recognize these organs: the prostate is a gland that's located below the bladder in males. The "pancreas" is located in your upper belly and creates the hormone "insulin" that most of you probably know of. Breasts? Even men know where these are located...)

    There's more though:

    Another mechanism by which zinc inhibiting cancer is by preventing damage from occurring to your DNA. To be more precise: zinc prevents the "reactive oxygen species" that I talked about earlier from damaging that DNA.

    Unfortunately, much more research is needed to fully flesh out zinc's role in cancer. Let's consider an area where zinc's effects are well-proven:
  • Zinc makes your bones stronger.[397-401]

    Yes...

    Zinc plays a major role in the prevention of "osteoporosis", a condition where your bones get weaker over time. Osteoporosis is increasingly risky to develop the older you get.

    If you have bone problems you're prone to have too little zinc stored in your body as well. 

    Why?

    Remarkably, people with osteoporosis generally have lower intakes of important minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and you guessed it: zinc

    Zinc plays a major role in bone growth - which is one of the reasons children with zinc deficiency get stunted growth. 

    Of course, I'm not saying that osteoporosis is primarily or exclusively a zinc problem--what I'm saying instead is that having low zinc levels exacerbates bone-formation issues.

    Proof?

    Zinc is so essential for bone health that supplementing with zinc may even help fractures heal more quickly.

    Consume your zinc-rich-foods for strong bones...
  • Zinc boost your immune system[61-67; 73-75; 100; 169]

    How?

    Firstly, as an example, zinc can help prevent a common cold. The best way to prevent that cold from occurring is by using zinc lozenges. You need quite a high dosage of that lozenge: 75 milligrams to be exact.

    Studies show that it's best to consume that lozenge during the first day you have symptoms. 

    If you get older, zinc can lower your overall propensity to become sick as well. How? 
    Zinc helps create and build white blood cells - which counter invaders and foreign substances in your body. Zinc additionally increases how well these white blood cells function.

    If you don't have sufficient zinc in your body, you'll not be able to properly fight infections, for example.

    And there's more:

    When you have an immune response, zinc helps increase inflammation levels. In principle, having high inflammation levels are not beneficial to your health. But if you have an immune reaction, you need temporarily higher inflammation levels to help your body defend itself.

    In other situations - where an immune response is not warranted - zinc actually decreases your overall inflammation levels.

    Why is having low inflammation levels important?

    Chronic (excessive) inflammation contributes to many modern diseases, such as cancer, nervous system problems, immune disorders, and aging itself. Zinc may thus slow down the aging process.

    Who doesn't want that benefit?
  • Zinc prevents skin diseases.[129-140; 313]

    Yes, really.

    Zinc is one of the most prominent minerals found in the human skin...

    Zinc has big effects on acne, for example. I wish I would have known that zinc has this effect when I was younger because I had enormous issues with acne back then (and have acne-scars to prove it). 

    Zinc is a big potential win for changing commonly used acne treatments. 

    Why?

    Acne problems are currently being treated with gels, antibiotics, skin creams, antibacterial soaps, and washes. If you've got really bad acne, these solutions won't even work.

    What's more disturbing is that these "solution" often have side-effects, such as skin peeling and dryness.

    Want to know a crazy fact?

    The knowledge that zinc is a possible solution for acne problems has been known since 1977. It's pretty amazing that people are still using all kinds of expensive solutions while zinc may be all they need...

    But zinc has many more effects on your skin.

    Wound healing might be delayed if you've got low zinc levels. Different wounds may be treatable by applying zinc topically: burning wounds, physical trauma damage, surgery cuts, or wounds because of diabetes side-effects.

    That's all?

    No:

    A skin problem that's more commonly occurring, skin lesions, is curable with zinc. "Psoriasis" - a condition where the immune system attacks your own skin that consequently becomes abnormal - is treatable with a topical zinc skin-cream.

    Warts on your skin?

    Use zinc.

    To treat warts, you can use both a zinc skin-cream or a regular supplement. Lastly, several other skin diseases from developing, although I won't go into deeper detail there.

    Overall, there's little downside to trying zinc if you've got skin issues. You can get a high-quality zinc-supplement for $15 - or just buy better food...
  • Zinc may counter allergies.[385-388] 

    When rats are given zinc before getting exposed to an allergen, they're having a less strong immune reaction compared to an absence of zinc.

    Children with food allergies also have lower zinc levels in their bodies than children without allergies. When children with asthma - a lung problem - are given a zinc supplement children's overall symptoms become less severe. 

    Again, zinc may offer an inexpensive solution if you've got allergies. In general, my advice is to try upping your zinc food (or supplement) intake before trying more expensive therapies.
  • Zinc improves your eye health.[69-72]

    Due to aging, many people over 60 experience vision loss. One common age-related eye disease is called "macular degeneration". In that disease, part of the light-sensitive area in the eye degrades. Fortunately, zinc slows that degeneration process.

    Chronically dry eyes, and a condition called "cataracts", can also be helped by having an optimal zinc intake. "Cataracts" denote a clouding of the lens of your eye which makes seeing things more difficult.

    How can zinc's have such widespread effects on eye health?

    Well, elderly people are often deficient in zinc, which partially explains why they have so many eye problems. Of course, there are other reasons for vision problems as well...

    Next, there's a biggie for all of us:
  • Zinc improves the health of your heart and blood vessels.[76-80; 82; 83]

    Your heart and blood vessel health - also called "cardiovascular health" is, highly influenced by zinc. 

    People with the highest amount of zinc in comparison to iron, for example, had half the chance of getting cardiovascular disease than people with the lowest zinc status. 

    People with a condition called "heart failure", moreover - whereby the body is unable to pump sufficient blood for proper cell functioning - have lower zinc levels than people without that disease as well.

    Zinc helps prevent an insufficient blood supply from developing in the heart. Through that mechanism, zinc may help prevent a heart attack from occurring in the first place.

    Additionally, zinc also improves your cholesterol levels. What is commonly called "bad cholesterol" or your "LDL cholesterol" - although that assessment is somewhat erroneous - is lowered by having an optimal zinc intake.
  • Zinc keeps your gut healthy.[224-230]

    How?

    Zinc can make your intestines less permeable to toxins. If you're deficient in zinc, the number and types of bacteria in your gut may also be altered (for the negative).

    Interestingly enough, minerals such as zinc and magnesium are not often emphasized in gut problems.

    Most people, when thinking of the healing gut problems, instantly assume that probiotic supplements are the first line of treatment. I would prioritize mineral deficiencies and getting enough sunlight any day.
  • Zinc helps your liver do a better job.[220; 389; 390]

    Having a zinc deficiency is intrinsically tied to developing poorer liver function.

    While no high-quality human studies have been carried out, it does seem that having an adequate zinc intake helps deal with liver problems.

    If you've got liver cirrhosis, for example - which is scarring of the liver - the buildup of toxins can be reduced. The liver is one organ that's responsible for removing toxins from your body.

    Supplementing with zinc can decrease stress on the liver, lower the number of toxins, and keep liver cells overall healthier. Your liver function will also improve when taking in adequate zinc. Scarring of the liver is also reduced with adequate zinc.

    Drinking a lot? Don't just increase your B-vitamin intake, but also make sure you get more zinc as well.

    Wish I had known that info during my college days...
  • Zinc helps your body manage blood glucose more competently.[81-89; 208]

    Poor blood glucose management plays an essential role in diseases such as diabetes. The most commonly held theory is that people with diabetes have a problem with transferring glucose (or carbohydrates) from the blood into their cells.

    With a sufficient zinc intake, your blood glucose levels are lowered. If you're already at risk for developing diabetes, zinc is a great way to lower your chances of getting that disease. 

    Zinc influences many mechanisms in relation to diabetes:

    The health of the cells of your "pancreas" organ - which stores and creates insulin - is also improved through increasing your zinc intake towards optimal levels. These specific cells (can) lose their function once you get diabetes.

    Zinc even helps in the creation of the insulin hormone in the pancreas. And there are more benefits:

    If you resolve a zinc deficiency through supplementing with zinc, you'll also lose fat. Managing blood glucose thus not only helps prevent diabetes but also helps you keep a healthy body weight.

    Managing blood glucose is not just beneficial if you're diabetic or at risk of becoming diabetic though--everyone benefits. Obese people (non-diabetic) lose weight when optimizing their zinc intake.

    Essence? When insulin can do its job better in your body, you're simply more prone to lose fat. 

    Overall, zinc thus seems very vital to managing blood glucose properly - which is not accidental.

    Why?

    Zinc has played a quintessential role in the human body -  and that of our hominin predecessors - and was consumed in high quantities in the previous millions of years.
  • Zinc increases the dopamine levels in your brain.[393-395]

    You've heard me talk about dopamine a lot on this blog.

    I have argued before, for example, that dopamine plays a major role in maintaining happiness. To be more precise, you need high dopamine levels to feel good, motivated, assertive, and to take action in life.

    Zinc -  not surprisingly -  also plays a role in creating dopamine in your brain.

    Although most research is carried out on animals, zinc does seem to make nerve cells associated with dopamine in your brain more excitable. In other words, the threshold to use more dopamine in your brain is lowered.

    Zinc also allows dopamine to be used for longer periods of time in the brain. 

    Interestingly enough, some conditions like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are also associated with both a dopamine deficiency as well as a zinc deficiency...

    Overall, zinc thus helps your attention and motivation stay high.


    Dopamine in action (although he might need to check his zinc levels for his eye health.)


    Zinc can do more for your mood though:
  • Having enough zinc simply makes you feel better[109-123; 182-184; 250]

    Zinc combats depression, for example - even if you have a major depression. A major depression is a serious condition in which people have a very negative outlook on life, and may even become suicidal.

    People with depression generally have lower zinc levels in their body...

    The higher your overall zinc concentration in your blood, moreover, the less likely you're depressed. When rats are fed a diet that's deprived of zinc, for example, they get depressed, derive less pleasure from any activity in general, and have increased anxiety levels.

    Got a depression that's resistant to treatment? Zinc may there as well.

    Even if you have a serious mental condition called "psychosis" - wherein contact is lost with reality - zinc may help.

    In patients of several types of psychiatric disorders, additionally, such as "psychosis", "bipolar disorder", and "schizophrenia" overall zinc levels are lower. Don't worry about remembering the names of these conditions though.

    Even if you're obsessive or compulsive, zinc can also lower that propensity and behavior.

    There's more?

    Yes...

    Overweight or obese people often have lower mood levels compared to the general population. Zinc helps in that area. It's almost unbelievable that this $50 per year intervention that possibly cures depression (if you've got a zinc deficiency) is not used and tested for on a much wider scale.

    Done yet?

    No...

    Zinc helps with your relaxation. Almost anyone can benefit from more relaxation in modern society.

    How?

    There's a delicate balance between the "GABA" and "glutamate" signaling substances in the human brain. The former is related to relaxation, while the latter is more stimulating. Zinc inhibits the activity of the more stimulating "glutamate" system so that you become more relaxed. 

    Zinc can even lower symptoms of anxiety.

    Why?

    If you've got anxiety issues, it's probable that you've got high copper levels in your tissues as well. Zinc and copper can compete with each other's absorption.

    If you're really anxious all the time, your copper levels might simply be too high while zinc levels are too low. Copper has a very stimulative effect on your nervous system and mind. People with high copper levels are more prone to be violent, for example.

    Taking in more zinc can correct a copper imbalance, and thus make you more relaxed overall.

    How about using zinc if you're healthy?

    There are indications that zinc can improve mood even in healthy people, and thus, if you don't have a depression. Everyone can thus benefit from having their zinc levels optimized.

    And when you think things couldn't become any better:

    Zinc boosts cognitive performance, such as memory.[145-156; 312]

    That's great to know...

    If you're deficient in zinc, you'll have an impairment in your memory. The same thing happens when you consume too much zinc. You're fine if and only if you use an optimal zinc dose.

    Zinc improves cognitive performance in children, even if they don't have a deficiency. If you're older though, such as 70 years old, zinc improves your brain capacity as well.

    The higher the zinc levels in your blood, the better your cognitive performance tends to be.

    By the way, for babies and toddlers who are reading this blog: zinc increase your motor development and playfulness. For their parents: yes, the minerals your kids take in do matter.

    There's more:

    Zinc increases your reaction time independent of age. Of course, reaction time is typically considered an increase in cognitive performance. Reaction time is nonetheless also very useful for improving your athletic performance.

    A quicker response time helps in any sport that emphsizes skill.

    Zinc also stimulates increases in a compound called "BDNF", which is an abbreviation of "Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor". BDNF is specifically related to the creation of new nerve cells. If you have optimal zinc levels, your body is thus better able to create such cells.

    How about zinc's role in brain diseases?

    There are indications that zinc even works for retrieving some of your cognitive function after you've had a stroke.

    In other diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease (which is a form of dementia), zinc deficiency plays an essential role too. People with Alzheimer's often have excessive copper levels, which can be counteracted by zinc.

    Overall, you thus need zinc levels to keep your brain healthy.

    Now you know why I began the introduction of this blog post about the relationship between brain-stimulating nutrients such as zinc and our exceptional human brain development.
  • Zinc decreases pain sensations.[406-410] 

    That's good news!

    Let's start with women again...

    If you're a woman, zinc may make your period less painful. The duration of the pain during your period also decreases.

    How?

    A certain receptor in the brain, called the "NMDA receptor", may play a major role in pain sensations--although more (human) research is needed on this subject.

    That NMDA receptor and system are positively influenced by having sufficient zinc levels. 

    The effects of zinc are not secluded to women's periods, however. People with pain in their muscles generally have lower zinc levels in their bodies.  What about other types of pain?

    Zinc may also help you deal with the pain of coming off addictive substances, or chronic cancer pain...

    The effect of zinc on pain management seems very promising overall. If you're in pain make sure to also include sunlight (best) or red light therapy (good) which has been proven to work for that purpose.
  • Zinc may help you eat more.[411-415]

    Do your kids not want to eat? Give them zinc! 

    The effect seems to be especially potent in boys, who increase their daily calorie consumption from 1,280 to 1,880 per day. That's a huge increase of almost 50%...

    As I've stated before, zinc may even play a major role in averting anorexia - again, by stimulating appetite. 

    Don't worry about zinc making you fat through stimulating appetite though: properly using nutrients is a key effect of zinc. An example of properly using nutrients is correctly managing your blood glucose, which I've mentioned before.

    An increased nutritional intake does not automatically mean that you're getting fat--eating more can entail health improvements too.


    "Really human, it was the zinc that made me gain 100 pounds of weight, not overeating!"

Is that all?

No...

There's more: zinc also plays a major role in many diseases. I've already mentioned cancer and Alzheimer's, but let's consider other diseases that are influenced by zinc:

  • Zinc deficiency may (co-)cause the development of autism.[236; 237]

    When measured, for example, children with autism have lower zinc levels in their teeth, nails, and hair.  

    Even during pregnancy, mothers who have low zinc levels are more prone to have autistic children. Zinc is hypothesized to be crucial in the proper development of the fetus during pregnancy.

    An improperly functioning gut also plays a major role in the development of autism - and you've learned earlier that zinc is necessary for proper gut functioning.  

    Autism is a brain disease. When you combine that fact with the knowledge that you need zinc for a properly functioning brain, you may infer that zinc may help prevent autism.

    Of course, many variables determine whether a child ends up with autism.

  • Zinc plays a role in neurological degeneration in general.[240-249]

    I mentioned a few nervous system disorders before such as Alzheimer's.

    There's even more evidence regarding zinc and your brain:

    Parkinson's another nervous system disease affected by zinc. People who have Parkinson's, for example, have lower zinc levels in their blood and brain. It's not yet known to what extent these low zinc levels are a cause or rather an effect of Parkinson's.

    I hope you're beginning to see a pattern here though: many diseases are associated with having lower zinc levels in your brain.

    There're more:

    Seizures may also be inhibited by having optimal zinc levels in your body. 
    Additionally, zinc plays a vital role in the recovery after a traumatic brain injury. Zinc may reduce your chances for depression after such an injury.

    How about healthy people?

    Without sufficient zinc, your memory will not work as well as it should as nerve cells can die. Zinc may also protect your brain against toxins, such as aluminum (although these effects have mainly been demonstrated on rats).

    Even the speed of aging of your brain is affected by zinc. Overall, zinc is thus not only necessary for brain health - which I concluded before - but for preventing brain diseases as well.

    But let's exit thinking our mind and get "down to earth":

  • Diarrhea can be prevented with adequate zinc consumption.[251-254]

    Yes, really!

    The period that you're having diarrhea will also be shorter with sufficient zinc in your diet. The stability (or texture) of your stools goes up, while the frequency of having to visit the toilet goes down while having adequate zinc.

    That's a win-win...

    You might be thinking: "what has diarrhea to do with me?"

    Diarrhea is a disease that can be life-threatening. People die of diarrhea because they lose too many fluids (and minerals) in their body. Diarrhea mostly affects poorer countries.

    (If you're living in a poorer country, you're more prone to be subjected to bad sanitary conditions that cause diarrhea. You're also more at risk for having zinc deficiencies in poorer countries, which exacerbates diarrhea.)

    It's estimated that zinc supplementation alone can save 23% of people from dying of diarrhea. 1.23 million people die from diarrhea on a yearly basis - so diarrhea is not the side-issue many expect it to be.

    Really?

    Yes...

    Let me make a simple calculation for you:

    760,000 of these 1.23 million people are children. Take 23% percent of these numbers, and you'll conclude that inexpensive zinc tablets can thus save 300,000 people each year, among which are 190,000 children.

    Zinc can even lower the reliance you need to have on other prescription medications commonly used to treat diarrhea. In other words, zinc can save money, and yet, hundreds of thousands of people are dying on a yearly basis due to zinc deficiencies anyway.

    That fact alone is scandalous...

    If you've got diarrhea you might thus want to increase your overall zinc consumption. 

  • Zinc may play a role in a condition called "cystic fibrosis".[402-404]

    Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease that primarily affects the lungs, but can negatively influence other organ functions as well.

    You guessed the answer:

    Having sufficient zinc intake helps your condition if you've got cystic fibrosis. Specifically, zinc decreases the number of infections you'll have, improves your breathing capacity, your weight, and your energy intake.

    That's a big win...

    Immune system function may also be enhanced, while the number of required antibiotics can be reduced. 

    As always, zinc supplementation only helps if you're currently zinc deficient. In general, though, people with cystic fibrosis are more prone to be zinc deficient.

  • zinc may play a role in multiple sclerosis, a disease in which your own immune system attacks nervous system cells in your spinal cord.[207; 238; 239]

    People with multiple sclerosis have lower overall zinc levels. Other newer studies, on the contrary, show that zinc may be displayed and actually help cause multiple sclerosis.

    Sadly enough, much more research is needed to fully understand the role of zinc in the emergence of multiple sclerosis. At this point, the displacement into the wrong areas of the body seems to be (partially) underlying the development of multiple sclerosis.

    While zinc-deficiency might not play a role in this disease, its misuse does. 

That's all?

No...

I could go on and on about different diseases that are affected by zinc.

I won't elaborate on the role of zinc in different diseases though, because reading even more text would bore you to death. Suffice it to say, I hope you'll understand that having adequate zinc levels is absolutely essential for moving (or staying) close to optimal health. 

All types of diseases, ranging from Alzheimer's to cystic fibrosis and heart disease are affected by how zinc functions in your body.

The best advice I can give you is that if you're so unfortunate to be dealing with any disease described above, is to read the following sections on zinc-rich foods, zinc-deficiency, and using lab tests to double-check your zinc levels.



(Nerd section: the section above does not justice to the full complexity zinc has in the human body. Zinc has an effect on more than 300 enzymes and 1000 transcription factors. Zinc helps regulate cell death, deals with DNA and RNA, and regulates gene expression.)[41-43] in the brain, zinc has various effects on chloride, potassium, calcium, and sodium channels.[44-47] Due to over-complication, I've left most of these mineral interactions out of this article. 

Besides dopamine, which was previously treated in this section, other neurotransmitters such as glutamate, serotonin, dopamine, and adenosine are also affected by your zinc intake.[48-51] Even though zinc is a trace mineral, it's hardly less important than calcium or magnesium, although the latter ones are far more well-known by the general public.)



Enough talking about diseases.

Let's move to a more positive note: food...

Hungry yet?

Then read the next section.

I promise you, your hunger will only become worse...

Want a simple infographic that describes the 10 most important lessons I got from reading hundreds of studies on zinc? Subscribe below:

Return To Table Of Contents

3. The Best Zinc Foods And Your Daily Zinc Needs

Remember I extensively talked about shellfish in the introduction of this article. I did not mention shellfish without a reason.

Not only are shellfish the food with the highest availability of zinc, the zinc in these foods is also the most absorbable.

Absorption?

Yes:

The most important factor in consuming zinc is not how much zinc you take in, but how much you're able to effectively utilize.

Absorption is a simple term to describe how much net zinc you're able to utilize when eating a food.

Let me explain with an example:

You can consume lots of zinc through grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, or beans, but that zinc is not used by your body very well if you consume these foods untreated.

With "untreated" I mean that you cannot properly absorb the zinc in these foods without properly preparing them.

Why?

Many plant foods contain what are called "anti-nutrients".[15-20] If you eat such foods they always need to be soaked, cooked, fermented, germinated, or sprouted before you can safely eat them in the first place.

(Don't worry if you don't know what "soaking" or "sprouting" mean. I'll give you a link to a guide on that topic soon.)

Anti-nutrients are substances in plants that are meant to protect the plant from consumption. Properly treating plan food will reduce their anti-nutrient content. 

While different types of foods contain different anti-nutrients, the highest levels are found in grains, beans, cacao, nuts, seeds, and legumes.

The hulls of most grains, for example, contain both lots of minerals as well as anti-nutrients. The inner part of the grain can be more easily digested by humans--but is much lower in minerals as well.

If you're eating white bread, therefore, you'll miss out on minerals. Why? By eating white bread you're not consuming the hull of the grain. But if you're eating whole grains instead, you need to properly deal with anti-nutrients instead.

By soaking grains in hot water for 8-24 hours, you'll reduce the anti-nutrient content so that you can fully absorb minerals such as zinc. After soaking, grains need to be cooked. If you skip those processes you'll end up with nutritional deficiencies as so many people on this planet do.

"Phytic acid" is an example of such an anti-nutrient.

Depending on the specific grain, you can fully eliminate phytic acid through that process of soaking and cooking. In other plants, such as nuts, fully removing phytic acid is a lot harder.



 (I oversimplify my argument on phytates and anti-nutrients because different types of phytates exist.[429] To be more precise: phytic acid is made up of phosphorus that's not directly bioavailable in humans. The non-phosphorus parts of the phytic acid compound can bind with minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc. Additionally, phytic acid alters gut function unfavorably, further decreasing the net mineral absorption. Besides phytic acid, there are other anti-nutrients such as "lectins", "tanning", and "oxalates".[451-453] All of these anti-nutrient compounds will lower your net zinc intake if not properly dealt with.)



Of course, small quantities of untreated grains or nuts will not be detrimental to your health--but they won't be optimal either.

Health problems are created when you rely on untreated plant products for longer periods of time. 

And that's exactly where most people go wrong:

Even in the developed world many people are relying on plant foods that have not been prepared properly. An improper preparation of plant foods is a recipe for disaster.

You might be thinking: "absolutely all plants?"

No...

Fruits are generally an exception to the preparation process - these foods can thus be consumed raw. How about vegetables? Vegetables often need some cooking time before you can properly digest them.

(I subsume tubers under "vegetables" in that instance.)

In general, I do not support the reliance on grains, legumes, beans, nuts, and lentils as a staple of human nutrition.[25] To me, consuming lots of these foods inadvertently creates mineral deficiencies.

White rice is safe but does not supply you lots of minerals either. Potatoes are also relatively safe. Adding vitamin C to a meal that's rich in anti-nutrients - from vegetables or fruits - also lowers anti-nutrient damage.

Can you survive on these aforementioned foods? Sure. Will your health be optimal when mostly relying on plant foods such as grains, nuts, and beans? No.

Remember:

The goal of this blog is to move you towards optimal health. Being "average" is (or rather: should be) of no concern to my readers.

Several studies have fortunately investigated the effects of treating plants on zinc absorption.[27; 331; 446] 

Fermenting grains, for example, increases their zinc absorption.[21; 23] Soaking rice and maize also increases their zinc absorption.[22; 24] If you do nothing and eat foods such as nuts untreated, mineral absorption can be lowered over 80%.[473] 

Nevertheless, I also know that many readers will keep consuming lots of plants foods anyhow. For that reason, I've decided to include a few steps to properly treat your foods so that they are absorbed well by your body.

Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, I'd recommend reading this excellent analysis on reducing the phytic acid (and anti-nutrient) content in different types of food.  The work originates from the Weston A. Price Foundation.

Click and read that guide.

Are you a visual learner? Watch the video below:

How about combining animal and plant foods though? When you include animal protein with your plant-based meal, mineral absorption levels rise again.[35] 

The causal relationship also works the other way around though:

By adding foods that are high in anti-nutrients to animal foods, the mineral absorption from these animal foods is impeded.[454] If you want to optimize your overall mineral status, it's probably best to include an animal-food only meal once in a while.

Now, the consequences of consuming phytic acid from food are not all negative.[447-450]

Phytic acid can help your gut function, may reduce your chances of getting cancers, and stabilize blood glucose. Including plant food with your diet can thus increase your overall health.

In summary, if you're relying mostly on plant foods anyway, what's important is  that:

  1. All these "anti-nutrients" may also have health benefits, depending on your individual situation, but inhibit mineral absorption as well.
  2. Specific anti-nutrients can exclusively be removed through soaking, fermenting, cooking, or sprouting.

Knowing what I've told you so far, you might be thinking:

"Exactly how much zinc should I get?"

The answer is: it depends...

Let's consider an adult woman:

If you consume lots of food that has very low bioavailable zinc, you need to consume up to 30 milligrams of zinc per day. If you consume foods that have extremely-high bioavailable zinc, you might merely need 5 milligrams per day.

In general, it's recommended that men get 11 milligrams of zinc per day on average, while women should get 8 milligrams per day.[354]

Pregnant women, however, need 11 milligrams, and lactating women 12 milligrams. 

Kids? Babies up to 1-year-old need 3 milligrams per day. From age 1, that dosage slowly increases until 12-year-olds are consuming 8 milligrams. 

Interestingly enough, the US has lowered their zinc recommendation from 15 milligrams per day to 11 milligrams--even though many people are slightly zinc deficient in the West already.

The be more precise:

In the US, for example, only 42% of elderly people meet their daily zinc intake.[442] Lowering the daily required zinc intake is a quick way to "create much fewer zinc-deficient people". Of course, the solution is only cosmetic, because lowering standards does not solve any underlying problem.

So what's my opinion on zinc dosages?

As often, the answer is "it depends..."

Let's first consider what not to do:

Many studies have been carried out where participants depleted of their zinc levels (consuming less than 5 milligrams a day, with an average of 3 milligrams of zinc per day).[295; 355-362]

The results zinc-depletion on health are disastrous.

Eating 10 - 30 milligrams of zinc per day will get most people's zinc levels back up (assuming animal food consumption). Zinc levels can get fully restored within 1-3 weeks. From many different studies we thus grossly know how much zinc you should be getting.

(As a side note, these zinc depletion studies are totally interesting from an ethical point of view. Nowadays you would never pass a 0,5-milligram daily-dosed zinc depletion study with a medical ethics board).

Of course, no zinc dosage recommendations is set in stone.

If you're eating lots of foods that are high in anti-nutrients such as phytates, you're going to absorb less zinc from these foods, and need (much) more than 11 milligrams per day as a male.

If you're really active, you probably need more than 11 milligrams of zinc per day as well. If you want optimal health the same is true. Remember that the "recommended daily allowance" is just a statistic under which most people do not become deficient.

An absence of a zinc deficiency does not mean that your zinc levels are optimal...

If you're exclusively eating plant foods, you might need as much as 30 milligrams of these foods to avoid a zinc deficiency. If you're including animal foods, one meal of a few oysters will already supply you with more than your daily need.

To make things simpler for you, let's get calculation somewhat out of the way...

Let's look at the 25 best zinc foods, weighted per 100g (3.3 ounces) while assuming an 11 milligrams per day zinc (absolute minimum) need.

(The percentage of the daily recommended allowance is listed behind the food type. Animal foods are listed in bold. I've included the highest listed variant of the product (i.e., out of 12 oysters I've included the oyster highest in zinc. Duplicates have been removed from the list. Foods have been sourced from nutritiondata.org. Numbers are calculated by me.)

  1. Eastern oysters (raw): 91 milligrams (827%)
  2. Calf liver: 12 milligrams (109%)
  3. Lean beef chunk 10 milligrams (90%)
  4. Bear meat: 10 milligrams (90%) (no joke!)
  5. Watermelon or sesame seeds: (90%)
  6. Reindeer meat: 9 milligrams (81%)
  7. Lamb meat: 9 milligrams (81%)
  8. Pumpkin and squash seeds: 7 milligrams (63%)
  9. Lobster: 7 milligrams (63%)
  10. Turkey: 7 milligrams (63%)
  11. Low-fat ground beef: 7 milligrams (63%)
  12. Cacao powder: 7 milligrams (63%)
  13. Pork liver: 7 milligrams (63%)
  14. Peanuts: 7 milligrams (63%)
  15. Chicken heart: 7 milligrams (63%)
  16. Pine nuts: 6 milligrams (54%)
  17. Cowpeas: 6 milligrams (54%)
  18. Wild rice: 6 milligrams (54%)
  19. Alaska crab: 6 milligrams (54%)
  20. Agar seaweed: 6 milligrams (54%)
  21. Cashew nuts: 6 milligrams (54%)
  22. Mustard seed: 6 milligrams (54%)
  23. Raw lobster: 6 milligrams (54%)
  24. Bison meat: 5 milligrams (45%)
  25. Sunflower seeds: 5 milligrams (45%)

Please keep in mind that because I've chosen to include the highest-scoring zinc value of each food type, instead of the average of many instances of that food type. To get to an average zinc value you might need to subtract 30%-40% of the zinc in these foods.

The average oyster, in reality, thus has closer to 60 milligrams of zinc in it.

(The reason I chose this method is because averaging the zinc intake over hundreds of beef product is un-doable. While the method I describe above is imperfect, at least it's replicable.)

Spices have also been removed from the list because I don't assume anyone eats 100 grams (3.3 ounces) of spices per day.

The best zinc foods?

Animal proteins - mostly stemming from meats and shellfish - and legumes, seeds, and nuts thus rule the day. Eggs, dairy, whole grains, and beans are great runner-ups that are not listed in the top 25.


"Don't eat us! Those oysters
over there contain more zinc..."


So that's that: you now know about the foods highest in zinc. These high-zinc foods are - not accidentally - also the foods that drove our human predecessors to develop much larger brains than our primate ancestors.

Let's now consider how you can make sure you're getting adequate zinc. I'll tell you everything you need to know about zinc deficiency and how to solve that problem.



(Nerd section: where your oysters are grown does matter. When waters are polluted, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, and mercury levels can become problematic. If your general health is good, heavy metals will not be problematic. With poorer general health, I do recommend taking this variable into account.



Return To Table Of Contents

4. Zinc Deficiency Signs And Prevention

About 17% of the world's population is currently at risk of an inadequate zinc intake.[185] Other statistics maintain that about 2 billion people - which is more than 25% of the Wold's population. 

While developed countries do better than poor countries, zinc problems are not absent from the developed world.  10% of the US population consumes less than half of the daily recommended allowance of zinc for instance.

That number is obscene...

One main reason many people end up with a zinc deficiency is that they're relying too much on plant foods:

Unrefined cereals, which are consumed en masse in many countries, combined with an absence of beef (liver), lamb, shellfish, eggs, and milk, almost certainly cause zinc deficiencies over time.[364; 365]

So, what are symptoms of a zinc deficiency?

  • First, there's muscle mass loss.[230; 231] 

    The lower the zinc levels in your body become, the more prone you'll be to lose weight - specifically muscle mass. 

    Why?

    Well, you already know that zinc is absolutely essential for hormonal health. Steroid hormones such as testosterone are essential for keeping muscle mass levels high - yes, women also need optimal testosterone levels for muscle mass and well-being as well.

    Next, zinc stimulates appetite. If you're not getting enough zinc, you're more prone to under-eat, which makes it harder to retain your muscle mass.

    Lost (too much) weight? You might be zinc deficient...

  • Poor skin[135; 417; 418]

    I've mentioned this problem before when demonstrating that zinc could be beneficial for skin problems such as acne.

    Well, if you've got poor skin health, you might just be deficient in zinc. Of course, having a poor skin does not automatically entail a zinc deficiency. It's also possible that you're not getting enough sunlight, for example, which often leads to skin problems as well.

    Dry and scaling skin, however, can be a sign of zinc deficiency. Your wounds may heal slower while being zinc-deficient.

    (on another note, white spots on your nails are also a cosmetic sign of zinc deficiency. Thinning hair or hair loss are (possible) signs as well.)

    Overall, poor skin is a sign that your health is worsening. Skin problems should not be ignored.

  • Having a slow working thyroid - also called "hypothyroidism".[107; 108]

    You might be asking: "well, what are signs of hypothyroidsim?"

    Good question...

    Hypothyroidism symptoms are insomnia, having low energy, gaining weight, having poor circulation in your hands and feet, dry skin, and thinning hair.

    Thyroid problems are epidemic in modern society.

    Zinc deficiency is one reason why people become hypothyroid. Upping your zinc intake can be one way to deal with thyroid problems without having to rely on thyroid hormone supplementation.

  • Being sick very often.[62; 65; 67; 68; 190] 

    Again, zinc plays a major role in the immune system. Being deficient in zinc makes you more susceptible for getting a virus infection, for example. 

    But remember that zinc also plays a general role in your immune system. Zinc builds white blood cells and has anti-cancer properties. Diarrhea, which I've mentioned before as well, is also a zinc-deficiency sign that has an immunological connotation.

    Are you sick two times every winter?

    Double check your zinc levels...

  • White tongue coating and sores in your mouth.[421]

    Ulcers in your mouth, specifically the inside of your lips, are signs of zinc deficiency. Inflammation of the mouth and lips, and having a white coating on your tongue are similar signs. 

    This zinc deficiency sign is simple to observe...

  • Feeling down.[474]

    I've already mentioned the role of zinc deficiency in depression. Other possibilities are a lack of energy and enthusiasm or heightened irritability.

    Another way through which zinc deficiency will make you feel bad is by lowering your testosterone levels. 

    Of course, you also know already know that zinc plays a role in the acquirement of psychiatric disorders.

    Lastly, having a low libido is also a sign of zinc deficiency. Having a low libido, especially if you're 20-50 years old should never be ignored or accepted as "natural" or "part of aging".

    But back to my previous point:

    Never ignore depression. While there are many other reasons you can be depressed besides a zinc deficiency, if you're got a depression I'd closely look at whether you've got any other of the zinc deficiency signs.

  • An altered sense of smell, vision and taste.[419-421]

    Zinc is enormously important for being able to smell, see, and taste properly. If you're zinc deficient, your senses simply won't work as well as they otherwise would.

    That taste and smell disorder may reduce your appetite in turn, creating a vicious circle of underfeeding - which exacerbates the zinc deficiency problem.

    How about vision? With a zinc deficiency, you may have night blindness. Night blindness can also be caused by a vitamin A deficiency though.

So, what if you've concluded that you may be zinc deficient? In that case, you've hopefully read the list of foods that are high in zinc. 

You thus know what to eat...

What's next?

Devise a plan.

In the next part of this blog post, I'm giving you several methods to increase the zinc absorption.

Follow these steps to increase zinc absorption:

  • Eating sufficient high-quality protein with your meal. 

    Examples of such high-quality proteins are "whey", "casein" or egg protein, or meat, crustaceans (crab, lobster), and shellfish of course.

    (Whey and casein are found in several milk products. To be more precise: casein is found in milk, yogurt, and cheese--whey is found in milk and is often used as a protein powder.)

    Certain sources of protein also lower zinc absorption though.[32; 33; 315] The serum of beef blood called "bovine serum albumin" is one example. That bovine serum is not commonly consumed by human beings, so you don't have to worry about your zinc absorption there.

    Soy protein is an example of a protein that lowers zinc absorption that is widely consumed and thus problematic.

    Please observe that many of the animal foods that are high in zinc also contain lots of protein. Lobster, oysters, or beef, contain both zinc that's highly absorbable as well as lots of protein.

  • Although this assertion is somewhat common sense: the more zinc contained in your meal, the higher zinc absorption levels will be.[30; 31; 34; 36; 318]

    There's a law of diminishing return though: once you consume more zinc in absolute terms, the relative absorption percentage does down. 

    The more zinc you ingest, the more you'll excrete as well. Consuming 75 oysters in one sitting might thus not be the best strategy...

  • Make sure you ingest enough vitamin B1, B2, and B6.[125; 232; 233] 

    B vitamins. 

    Most people know B vitamins are important but are unaware of the best sources. Let's, therefore, give you a list:

    Beef, liver, milk, nuts, oranges, pork, eggs, and shellfish are your best vitamin B1 options.

    Vitamin B2? Lamb, milk, mushrooms, spinach, beef, pork, fish, avocados.

    Eggs, fish, starchy vegetables, fruits, and beef are great sources of vitamin B6 that's highly usable for your body.

    I hope you see a general pattern in these food sources...

  • Vitamin A and D also increase the absorption of zinc.[126; 127]

    To be more precise: you need both vitamin A and D. Meat - especially organ meats such as liver - and eggs are excellent sources of vitamin A.

    Unfortunately, liver contains very high levels of copper, which may counteract optimal zinc absorption. Meat and eggs are thus great ways to supply your body with enough vitamin A without overloading your body on copper.

  • The mineral "selenium" may increase the absorption of zinc.[319; 320]

    Unfortunately, this effect has not yet been tested in human beings. Many great zinc sources such as lamb, beef, and oysters, and eggs contain some selenium as well.

What can you learn from the zinc-increasing factors described above?

 

Animal protein contains many of the co-factors that increase zinc absorption that I've just described: vitamin A and D, selenium, B-vitamins, and lots of milligrams of zinc. If you're zinc deficient, it might be best to avoid combining these animal foods with plant foods during that specific meal.

Again: the best way to make sure you're getting enough zinc is to include one meal per day that's high in animal protein - while not including any plant food in that meal.

Of course, you can consume many plant foods during the other meals you're ingesting during the day.

I think it's paramount to strike the right balance.

I think the maximal absorption of minerals is one of the reasons so many people are turning towards a carnivore diet right now. Mineral deficiencies are extremely widespread - even in the developed world - and more easily cured with a diet that exclusively prescribes animal foods.

While I'm not suggesting a diet that exclusively includes animal foods, there's merit to that strategy.


Returning home with meat:
celebrated for millions of years
with good reason.

 
I'm not done yet though.

There's more one important step in my argument: looking at the variables that make you more susceptible to creating a zinc-deficiency.

There are several reasons that make you more likely to be zinc deficient:

  • Prescription medication can lower overall zinc levels.[109]

    Examples are stomach acids blockers, hormones, epilepsy drugs, diabetes medication, and anti-inflammatory drugs. If you're older, and on multiple drugs, your zinc levels will also be lower.[154]

    No wonder 60% of elders are zinc-deficient - even in rich countries...

  • Not consuming enough zinc through your diet, either because you're eating lots of plant foods that are not treated or because you're not consuming enough zinc in absolute terms.[209]

    Of course, you already know by now that plants foods (i.e. soaked, milled, fermented, sprouted) to be absorbed correctly. Nevertheless, vegetarians and vegans literally have higher chances of becoming zinc deficient. 

    This reason is a no-brainer, but I've included it anyway to give you complete information in this section.

  • If you're consuming too much copper (in all your meals).

    Beef liver is one of richest foods in copper on this planet. You might not know, however, that copper inhibits zinc absorption. 

    It's therefore not enough to eat foods that are very high in zinc--they also need to be ideal in the amount of copper they supply.

    If you're thus consuming lots of beef liver - even thought that food is very high in zinc - you can still end up with a zinc-deficiency.

    Low zinc levels are one problem that vegans and vegetarians often experience because plants, in general, contain a higher value of the daily recommended allowance of copper than zinc.

    The more you rely on plants, the higher the copper to zinc ratio of your diet becomes. Only a few plants have a good zinc to copper ratio exist, such as pumpkin seeds. But naturally, pumpkin seeds are very high in phytic acid, reducing their absorption.

    Supplementing with zinc is therefore highly recommended for vegans and vegetarians.

    Quick tip:

    One way to lower overall copper levels is consuming a mineral called "molybdenum". That mineral releases copper from your body, and prevents too much copper from being absorbed.

    High-quality zinc supplements sometimes include this mineral in their formula.[156-158]

  • If you're having digestive problems.[186-188; 227; 235]

    Examples are having a leaky gut or not having enough stomach acid.

    If you're having a leaky gut - whereby junctions in your intestines let through substances into your bloodstream that shouldn't be there - zinc may play a role in that process. A leaky gut is connected to many food absorption diseases, such as Crohn's disease, irritable bowel disease, and an inability to tolerate gluten.

    Lots of people deal with low stomach issues as well in modern-day society. A common example of having low stomach acid is acid-reflux - which is often not a sign of having too much stomach acid...

    Consequences?

    A vicious circle of zinc-depletion.

    How?

    Low stomach acid lowers zinc uptake, and a lower zinc increases your gut problems.

    There's more though:

    With less zinc in your body you'll be even more prone to not properly digesting and utilizing protein. That's why I mentioned muscle mass loss as a sign for reason for zinc deficiency earlier.

    In addition, zinc is also necessary to produce sufficient stomach acid in the first place. Contrary to popular belief, you need stomach acid to properly digest foods.

  • If you're drinking lots of alcohol, you'll lose out on zinc.[216-223]

    The more alcohol you consume, the worse your body is able to hold on to zinc.

    My message gets worse though:

    Rat studies have demonstrated that you're more prone to consume alcohol once you're zinc deficient - further exacerbating the problem. 

    Increasing your zinc intake, however, will prevent some of the damage that alcohol does to your liver. That's a simple solution...

    Interestingly enough, the zinc content of your brain goes down the more alcohol you drink. Being deficient of zinc also decreases the functioning of your gut, which makes you more susceptible to the toxic effect of alcohol - such as to your liver and brain.

    Nevertheless, I do remember the late night parties in college very fondly...

  • I've mentioned this before: heavy exercise depleted zinc.[101; 210-216] 

    But let's dig into detail:

    The higher the temperature and the more you're sweating, the greater the zinc loss. There are also indications - although somewhat contested - that heavy exercise can lead to zinc losses in your urine.

    The amount of zinc in your body is thus important to manage once you're exercising a lot.

    Don't waste your precious time by killing yourself in the gym while not making sure you're getting enough zinc...

  • If you combine lots of iron and zinc at the same time, zinc may not be absorbed as well.[162-166]

    The zinc-absorbing effect is especially present from, you guessed it: iron coming from plants

    That's double trouble...

    Plants thus contain copper levels that inhibit zinc absorption, while their iron also competes. Many animal foods contain another type of iron - called "heme iron" - that is non-problematic for zinc-absorption.

    With low doses of iron and zinc, no problem is present.

  • People with diabetes lose out on zinc.[380; 381] 

    If you've got diabetes, you'll have lower zinc levels in general.

    Even though diabetics have lower zinc levels in their tissues they still excrete more zinc than people who do not have diabetes.

    Thus: manage your zinc status properly as a diabetic. Also, make sure to watch your magnesium intake if you've got diabetes.

  • If you're deficient in a protein called "albumin", which is located in your blood, zinc in your body will be lower.[299-302; 382; ]

    Some diseases affect your blood albumin levels and lead to lower zinc levels. Why? Albumin carries zinc in your blood.

    While treating albumin-conditions lies beyond the scope of the argument I'm making in this blog post, suffice it to say that albumin problems will make getting sufficient zinc to the right places in your body more difficult.

    Fortunately, people who have a condition affecting albumin (probably) know about this problem.

  • If your food is grown in a soil that's zinc-deficient.[334-339]

    What's the role of zinc in crops?

    Zinc is essential for different plant growth processes, such as photosynthesis (plants absorbing light energy from the sun) and overall growth.

    It's estimated that an absence of zinc might be one of the biggest mineral-deficiency problems in modern soils. If chemical fertilizers high in other minerals, such as sodium and phosphorus, zinc levels will get depleted when it's not added to the fertilizer mixture.

    Zinc depletion in soils is not a side-issue. 50% of soils in Asia are low in zinc. The more intense (read: Westernized) the farming method, the greater the overall zinc depletion observed.

    The effects of zinc-depleted soils are widespread:

    If a soil is zinc-depleted, you can consume all the red meat and lamb you want, but you're not getting adequate zinc in your diet.

    Crazy right?

    What's even more interesting is that some types of food are especially prone to be hit by zinc deficiencies: high-yield crops. High yield crops include grains, beans, rice, soybean, and corn. If you remove the outer layers of plants such as grains, you're removing most of the zinc as well. 

    It's therefore almost necessary to eat whole grains that are treated properly to get your daily zinc needs met, instead of processed grains - if they make up the bulk of your diet.

    How to be sure that your food contains enough zinc?

    Firstly, read the label on zinc if that's available. Alternatively, look at some measurements of zinc levels in common foods in your nation. Some nations have soils that are low on zinc...

  • If you're having genetic issues with transporting zinc.[416]

    Some people might simply have higher zinc requirements because of genetic reasons. Unfortunately, these genes and their underlying mechanisms have not been completely identified yet.

    I'm not an expert in the genetics of zinc transportation (yet), so I cannot fully help you here.

That's it. 

A full list of all reasons why you might be more prone to be zinc-deficient. It's not just getting enough zinc that's the issue though:

Some people will supplement with crazy amounts of zinc, thinking that more is better. You can easily go overboard though with 50-milligram zinc supplements that are commonly sold.

50 milligrams of zinc equals almost 500% of the daily recommended allowance. If you solely take in zinc as a supplement, without iron or copper, the latter two minerals will get depleted over time.

There's another side of the equation though - the opposite of a deficiency:

Let's consider having excessive zinc levels in your body. What happens in that instance[377; 378; 430-439]

You can get:

  • Chest pain, which may occur from breathing zinc oxide from industrial processes
  • Nausea, often occurring if 50 - 100 milligrams of zinc lozenges are used against a common cold.
  • Inflammation of the kidneys (and damage at higher dosages).
  • Vomiting, which may already happen once you ingest 100-200 milligrams of elemental zinc in a single dosage.
  • Fatigue, also occurring from inhaling industrially created zinc oxide - combined with fever.
  • Digestive problems and pain, which can take place if you exceed 150 milligrams of zinc for longer periods of time.
  • Lower HDL cholesterol in your blood - which is considered "good cholesterol" - from doses above 100 milligrams. (As a side note, it's very probable that HDL cholesterol is not the exclusive "good" cholesterol).
  • An impaired immune system, at doses above 80 milligrams for a longer period of time.
  • Damage to the nervous system.
  • Liver toxicity.
  • Copper deficiency. Zinc and copper need to be present in about a 7:1 to 10:1 ratio in your diet. Many people already have an excess in copper in modern society, however, thereby not meriting an even lower net zinc to copper ratio.
  • Lethargy

It's important to understand that you will not just end up with a zinc toxicity by using extreme doses of zinc foods and supplements. On the contrary, it's also possible to be exposed to toxic zinc levels through industrial settings.[379]

Overall, the most important message of this section is that both an excess and deficiency of zinc are bad.

In the next section, I'll tell you all you need to know about how and when to supplement.

Return To Table Of Contents

5. Supplementing With Zinc?

First of all, I'd recommend making sure you get most of your zinc through food - specifically some high-quality animal foods.

In most instances, supplementing with zinc is more dangerous than consuming more zinc-rich foods. Why? Zinc-rich foods such as oysters or beef are often rich in other minerals such as iron or copper as well.


Beef: high-quality zinc, by nature
balanced by enough iron and copper

Zinc supplements, on the contrary, most often exclusively contain zinc. Taking that zinc supplement without knowing your context can do more harm than good to your health.

Nevertheless, I do want to include an (almost) complete list of zinc supplements in this blog post - judging these supplements on their quality.

The most important criteria for buying a zinc supplement is A) their absorption level; B) whether your supplement is clear from toxins.

Why?

First of all, if you cannot properly absorb the zinc you're taking then your action is counterproductive. Secondly, if ingesting zinc means ingesting toxins, you might not be promoting your health in the first place...

Let's first consider my first criteria:

A.) Your zinc needs to be absorbable - i.e., the form needs to be useful.[272]

Some types of zinc are actually used better by the human body than others. 

Below I'll describe the "bad", "good", and "winning" types of zinc supplements.

Let's start with the bad:

  • Zinc Picolinate

    One zinc form that I do not recommend is zinc that's paired with "picolinic acid". While you can forget that name, the reason I'm rejecting this zinc form is that the picolinate may remove zinc from the body's stores.[272; 311]

    Zinc picolinate, moreover, can also be toxic to your cells (although you would have to consume large quantities of the substance).[316]

    There are safer zinc forms that do not have the aforementioned issues, so that's why zinc picolinate is subsumed under the "bad" zinc forms.

  • Zinc Oxide.[333; 424; 428]

    Remember my magnesium blog post? In that article, I described a magnesium supplement form called "magnesium oxide" which had very low absorption levels.

    Just like the magnesium oxide garbage form, zinc oxide also has poor absorption levels as well. Don't use zinc oxide when you can get other zinc forms that are both inexpensive and absorb well.

    The absorption of zinc oxide might be the same or (even) lower as the next zinc form I'm considering: zinc sulphate:

  • Zinc Sulphate.[311; 325; 423]

    This form has very poor absorption compared to better zinc forms.

    Simple.

    Avoid...

    Next:

  • Zinc Carbonate.[428]

    Poor absorption yet again - in fact, this form is almost unusable by the body.

    Avoid again...

    I do like to see more studies on this zinc form, as other "carbonate" forms such as calcium carbonate are absorbed very well by the human body. Nevertheless, due to the current evidence, I'm subsuming "zinc carbonate" in the "bad" category.

  • Zinc Pantothenate.[311; 423]

    This form - yet again - seems to be absorbed less well than other zinc alternatives and has not been widely tested.

    Steer clear...

  • Zinc Aspartate.[324; 330]

    This zinc form is bound to "aspartate" which can act as a neurotoxin in your brain. Although absorption is fine, more healthy choices are available.

Let's finally consider some zinc forms that do confer good benefits:

The good forms of zinc:

  • Zinc Orotate.[311; 330]

    Zinc orotate absorbs better than alternatives, such as zinc sulfate or zinc pantothenate. Sadly enough, there's not that much specific research on zinc orotate, although it may be logically inferred that this form should be highly absorbable, just as magnesium orotate is.

    I've written about magnesium orotate in a previous blog post.

    Zinc orotate might be especially great if you're exercising a lot. Why? Zinc orotate may lower fatigue levels.

  • Zinc Carnosine.[234; 328; 329]

    Although more research is needed, this compound may help with reducing gut issues if you have trouble absorbing other zinc forms.

    Zinc carnosine does appear healing to the gut and might therefore be an ideal choice for people with gut issues.

  • Zinc Methionine.[426; 445]

    This zinc form may be great, but unfortunately, very few high-quality studies can be found on this zinc form.

    In animal studies there does seem to be a high absorption from this zinc form.

While the zinc supplements in the "good" are fine choices, they are not what I would recommend as the "best". In general, the best zinc supplements do not cost you any extra money compared to supplements found in the "best" category.

Lastly, let's thus consider your best zinc supplement choices:

The zinc winners:

  • Zinc Gluconate.[272; 317; 333; 425]

    Fortunately, zinc gluconate is inexpensive. It's also been established that zinc gluconate has much higher absorption levels than zinc oxide and other "garbage" zinc forms I've treated earlier.

    There's a big upside to gluconate though: zinc gluconate has been tested to be really low in toxic metals such as cadmium.[307] The low toxin levels are the biggest upsell of this zinc form.

    Zinc gluconate seems to have either the same or somewhat lower absorption levels than zinc citrate - which I'll treat now:

  • Zinc Citrate.

    The citrate that's added to the zinc directly increases the absorption of zinc.15] Absorption of zinc citrate is also higher than zinc picolinate.[332] 

    Absorption of this zinc form is equally as high as zinc gluconate. No adverse effects have been found of zinc citrate, so this form is highly recommended.

  • Zinc Glycinate.

    This form seems to have great absorption levels, which may be up to 40% higher than zinc gluconate.[321; 326] 

    Animal studies indicate that glycinate is probably better than zinc sulphate.[322; 323; 325; 328]

I'm not done yet though. Let's look at the second quality that the best zinc supplements should have:

B.) Your zinc supplement should be clear from toxins.

Zinc supplements can contain heavy metals such as "cadmium" in high amounts.

Consequence:

If you're not buying a high-quality supplement, you're massively reducing the benefits you get from a supplement.[307] Supplements should be healing--not cause health impairments on their own.

Contrary to what many people think, heavy metals in your body do matter. Let's consider cadmium. Cadmium is eliminated very slowly from your body: half of the dose you ingest stays in your body for 12 years.[308] 

12 years of wreaking havoc...

Fortunately, I've got some important info on zinc supplements:

In general, supplements that contain just zinc are safer than getting zinc from multi-vitamins and multi-minerals.[307] 

I'm not being pessimistic or partaking in fear-mongering in this section: even prenatal vitamins are often contaminated with toxic heavy metals such as mercury or lead.

Insane but true...

The bottom line is that you should not try to save on (zinc) supplements, by thinking you can get away with as cheap as a product as possible. Zinc supplements are already inexpensive, so there's no reason to try to save as much as you can.

Most people are not buying the cheapest car, cheapest couch, or cheapest house, but they're very quick to opt for the cheapest supplements. That mentality is toxic because your health should be prioritized over and above buying a bigger car.

So what should you do?

What's my solution to buy high-quality supplements that are free from toxins?

Buy your supplements at PureBulk.com (click below to go to the website):

PureBulk Supplements

On that website, search for "zinc gluconate" - which is the main product I recommend to buy from that website. Pure Bulk's zinc gluconate is uber inexpensive, and yet, high quality.

Disclaimer: only buy a zinc supplement if you're unable to increase your shellfish and red meat intake. I consider shellfish and red meat the best zinc sources that should be available to most people.

I've even asked PureBulk.com for their lab tests to double-check their supplements for heavy metals.

Their zinc gluconate contains:

Lead levels are 2.5 parts per million, while arsenic, mercury, and cadmium are located at less than 1 part per million. Only their lead levels are somewhat high, while the levels of other heavy metals are located far below the 2 parts per million safety threshold.

Because you'll not be consuming a lot of the zinc gluconate, however, I do not consider taking this supplement dangerous.

Moreover, no contaminants such as E. Coli, Salmonella, Staph aureus, and Pseudo. aeruginosa, yeast and mold could be found - and have thus tested negative.

Do you want another zinc forms besides zinc gluconate?

Here you go...

Click the following links to buy that specific product:

Unfortunately, I do not have heavy metal lab tests for these four supplements.

So what's the best time to take a zinc supplement?

If I take zinc supplements, I like to take them at nighttime (before bed). It might be a placebo effect, but I do feel effects from taking a zinc and magnesium supplement right before going to bed--as opposed to during the daytime.

Both magnesium and zinc have a calming effect, which partially explains why many people benefit by taking them before bedtime.

I do want to give you a warning though:

Many of these zinc supplements are dosed very highly, such as 15 or 30 milligrams.

If you're giving such supplements to children, be very careful not to administer them every day. 

Why?

Children may only have a need for 5 or 10 milligrams of zinc per day - depending on their age - and will almost immediately end up with a copper or iron deficiency if you're giving them 30 milligrams every day.

Rule: no high-dose zinc supplements for your kids.

You're not doing them a favor if they end up with a copper or iron deficiency. Give your kids oysters or red meat instead.

Lastly, you might be thinking:

"Any other zinc uses I should be aware of?"

Sure, zinc oxide is often used in sunscreens. Zinc oxide is very effective to block out the sun (which you should almost never want to do, as it blocks all different types of ultraviolet light.)

Zinc is also used as an antibacterial substance that's added to products, such as toothpaste and food packaging. 

In general, it's best to avoid these products. No need to use zinc besides internal use...

Return To Table Of Contents

\

6. Measuring Your Zinc Levels - Lab Tests

Let's say you're thinking "all right, you've given me the zinc deficiency symptoms, and told me what foods to eat and potential supplements to take. But I want to know whether I'm REALLY deficient." 

In that case this section is for you...

In this section I'm including several lab tests that can help you get a better picture of your body's zinc status.


"Lab testing: only for 
smart animals, human!"


Let's first consider how zinc works in your body. There are about 2,5 grams of total zinc in your body.[353] Your bones, skeletal muscle, and liver contain the most net zinc in your body.

Interestingly enough, zinc is turned over up to 125 times per day.[352] 

Zinc is a hard case to measure though--some types of vitamins and minerals are much easier to measure. Vitamin A, for instance, can be measured through your blood plasma, while magnesium is easily testable in your red blood cells.[265; 266] 

With zinc tests, the process is more complicated. It's also difficult to know whether you're deficient in zinc based on symptoms alone...

Why?

For zinc, there's no straightforward symptom that indicates that people have a zinc deficiency in the first place. Sure, you'll sleep worse, have a memory of a person 20 year older than you, and you'll recover slower from workouts.

There's no paradigmatic symptom of zinc deficiency.

In magnesium deficiency, cramps and insomnia might be the most important symptoms. In zinc deficiency, on the contrary, there's a list of 5-20 symptoms. Many of these symptoms may or may not be present - depending on the individual.

There's another problem that complicates going off "zinc deficiency symptoms" all by themselves:

Let's say, for example, that children have problems with their immune system or slowed growth. In that case, these symptoms can entail a zinc deficiency, but can also occur due to several types of cancers or overall malnutrition.

Understanding whether you have a zinc deficiency or not is thus not very straightforward...

In this section, I'll consider several methods for testing your zinc levels. Testing your zinc levels can be very important if you suspect a zinc deficiency or when you want to be sure your zinc is adequate.

One problem zinc testing has is that there are more than 25 zinc tests on the market today - some of which are very obscure. Below I've included the most commonly used zinc tests while telling you all about their validity.

Ready?

Let's go...

First of all, let's consider the often used "zinc taste test".[256; 258; 263]

During the zinc taste test, you need a liquid zinc form. You need to combine two teaspoons of that liquid zinc with water and put the water into your mouth.

You next determine what taste the water has. One scenario is that you can only taste the water, for example. Alternatively, you may have an arid, mineral, or sugary taste. Another possibility is to have a somewhat or highly unpleasant reaction qua taste. 

The taste may also develop over time.

If you're getting the highly unpleasant reaction immediately, proponents of this zinc taste test argue that this implies you've got adequate zinc levels. If you're low on zinc instead, you might not taste much or nothing at all, or have a mildly unpleasant taste in your mouth.

The biggest problem with this test is that it's not accurate (and perhaps not even valid).

In other words:

Even though you might taste nothing, you can still have sufficient zinc levels. And even though you're having a strong unpleasant taste, you can still be zinc deficient.

There's more though: even if you don't taste anything other than water (which would indicate a zinc deficiency according to the zinc taste test), and supplement with zinc, you can still get the same outcome on the taste test again even though you're zinc sufficient now.

I consider the zinc taste test pretty useless because it leads to a lot of false positives and negatives.

Because this test is widely used, I decided to include it anyway here - as a critique.

So let's look at better options:

Secondly, there are "serum" and "plasma" tests for zinc in your blood - which I consider best currently.[256; 257; 270; 274; 278; 280; 282-285; 295] Both of these tests are high-quality.

Qua high-quality tests, let's consider the zinc blood plasma test first.[262; 340; 341; 342] 

Fortunately, the zinc blood plasma test does respond to changes in your zinc intake. If you increase your zinc intake through supplementation, for example, your plasma zinc levels will rise. If you quit supplementation for a few weeks, your zinc levels will drop again. 

That's what we're looking for...

The plasma blood test for zinc has thus very predictable changes to alterations in your zinc intake, through either food or supplementation. Fortunately, the validity of testing your zinc plasma levels has also been verified in multiple (independent) studies.

A problem that still exists with the blood plasma test is that zinc levels can change throughout the day. Fasting also affects the outcome of this test.[256] 

If you're really stressed, plasma zinc readings can be lower and the test is invalid as well. You thus have to make sure you're testing yourself on a day at which you're not taunted by your mother in law.

(I know that's easy for me to say as I'm single)

If you've got anemia (i.e. low iron levels) or sepsis (blood infection) your blood plasma will also be lower - and the reading will be invalid.[343; 345] Infections, problems with red blood cells or a previous heart infarction can skew the test - therefore making outcomes problematic.

The end-result?

Zinc levels in the blood plasma can vary as much as 20% throughout the day. When measuring blood plasma, you thus need to correct for the time of the day your blood sample was taken.

The plasma zinc levels given below assume a morning fasted state, while being non-stressed:

A good outcome of this test is to score above 80 micrograms per deciliter of blood. Under 76 micrograms per deciliter, you're highly deficient in zinc.

100-170 micograms per deciliter seem to be optimal. Children are already deficient under 100 micrograms per deciliter - and thus need higher overall levels.

One more caveat: in general, women have somewhat lower zinc blood plasma levels than men.

Now, fortunately, there's another good option to test for your body's zinc status - although this option is not quite as good as the zinc blood plasma test:

Secondly, there's the blood serum zinc test.[344; 346-349]

Levels in this test need to be between 70 micrograms per deciliter, and 120 micrograms per deciliter to avoid a deficiency - in children at least. A 100 micrograms reading is probably best again for children.

If you're older, 60 - 110 micrograms per deciliter are officially sufficient. I would recommend scoring at the higher outcomes in the range though, as a 60 - 80 micrograms per deciliter level might still put you in the "slightly deficient" territory. 

Remember that many people in modern society are slightly zinc deficient, even though they don't have a full-fledged dangerous zinc problem.

There's a extensive overlap between the blood serum and plasma tests:

If samples are taken and blood serum or plasma methods are processed at exactly the same time, with a same handling of the sample, no difference should be found in zinc concentrations in either method.[350; 351]

Lots of studies have actually been done verifying that the blood plasma and serum tests are the golden standards for zinc testing right now.

How do we know?

Zinc depletion studies reduce both zinc blood plasma and serum levels by 20-80% over a period of months.[295; 355-362] Just a few days of supplementation can already increase your zinc levels again.[287; 288; 363]

Intakes of 3 milligrams of zinc per day or less almost immediately lead to dangerous blood serum and plasma zinc levels. These zinc blood serum and plasma levels will only plateau around a zinc intake of 20 to 30 milligrams per day.[366]  

There's another upside to these tests though: both the plasma and serum zinc levels are also a good reflection of your zinc levels in other bodily tissues.[295]

In other words, if very little zinc can be found in your blood serum or plasma, you can expect your zinc levels to be depleted in your liver and bone as well. Vice versa, if your blood serum or plasma zinc levels are great the rest of your body necessarily has a good zinc status as well.

Thirdly, urine zinc levels can also give an above-average indication of your zinc levels.[272; 303; 372; 374-376 ]

There's a caveat to that conclusion though: if you're zinc-deficient you can excrete over 95% less zinc. Having very low zinc levels in your urine is thus not always a good indicator of overall health.

There does seem to be a relationship between zinc levels in your urine and serum, but I'd opt for the latter or a blood plasma zinc test to achieve the most accuracy.

A zinc urine test can help you diagnose what's happening with zinc in your body. Having below-average blood plasma zinc levels, combined with very high urine zinc levels, for example, tells you that you're excreting too much zinc.

The next step, in that instance, would be to find out why zinc is getting lost in your body...

We're not done yet though...

There's one more option:

Fourthly, a hair mineral analysis of zinc levels is also frequently used.[272; 367-371]

One problem with this hair mineral analysis test is that the outcome on the test does not always correlate very well with outcomes on a zinc blood serum test. As a consequence, the hair mineral analysis test is relatively useless compared to the "golden standard" of the zinc blood plasma and serum levels.

What's more, hair color might even affect how much zinc can be found therein. Some diseases can even cause a decrease in hair and increase in zinc serum levels - making the hair biomarker less useful. 

Overall, I would thus opt for the previously described options to test your zinc levels...


"Please, no more hair mineral analysis zinc testing..."



(Nerd section: lastly, there are many other zinc tests of which the status is very currently unclear:

  • Salivary zinc - specifically saliva sediment - may be useful, but is not well-validated yet.
  • Red blood cell, and specifically metallothionein.[268'; 269; 273; 279; 282; 284; 296] For nerds: erythrocyte metallothionein levels of zinc may deplete much quicker than serum plasma levels under zinc depletion - which is a sign that red blood cells more adequately reflect zinc cell levels. Nevertheless, only a few studies have been published on this method, and the measurement method is not standardized. Some studies also show that supplementation does not significantly alter red blood cell zinc levels.
  • White blood cell levels of zinc.[271; 275; 289; 297] White blood cell levels do not seem to increase with supplementation, while blood plasma levels do. Lymphocyte metallothinein levels may be a more sensitive method for testing zinc status than blood serum - although much more research is needed.[292]
  • Lymph system cells.[277] There's very little data and standardization on this specific test.
  • Metallothionein gene expression - and erythrocyte and monocyte metallothionein.[287; 288] This is a prima facie interesting perspective but this method carries too little data as of right now.
  • Platelet zinc contents do not change with zinc supplementation.[289; 297] That inability of zinc supplements to change the zinc content of platelets can be either good or bad.
  • Superoxide dismutase may be able to display zinc levels.[290; 291] Superoxide dismutase zinc levels may even go down after supplementing with zinc, while serum zinc goes up.
  • 5'-nucleotidase enzyme may reflect very acute changes in zinc status, although more validation is needed.[293])

I included these tests to demonstrate that zinc testing can be a complex issue that's likely to develop over the next decade(s). Currently these tests are not well validated enough, which is why I crowned the blood serum and plasma as the "golden standards".)



Bottom line: make sure to opt for the zinc blood plasma test whenever you can.

That's it...

Everything you need to know about zinc.

Let's therefore conclude, and take the 50,000-yard view:

Return To Table Of Contents

7. Conclusion: Zinc Is Not Just An Afterthought.

But there is a simple solution...

There's one action that can take care of all your zinc needs once and for all:

Eating a few dozen of oysters each week, however, is not affordable to everyone. For me, at this point, buying that many oysters are still expensive.

Yet, eating oysters is the best high-end option we have on this planet. Oysters can even save the environment:

So what's the solution if you're short on money?

Eat lots of high-quality red meat or eggs. Alternatively, consume some plant foods that are high in zinc but make sure to prepare them properly. Only in the worst-case scenario would I opt for supplementation. 

You need to get this right:

Zinc is a mineral that you cannot possibly ignore if your goal is optimal health. Zinc is important for just about any process in your body working properly:

  • Creating energy
  • Having your mind work well
  • Preventing diseases such as Alzheimer's and diabetes
  • Recovering from workouts and sleeping well
  • Looking good and feeling even better
  • Just kicking more ass

Unless you're eating loads of high-quality animal foods that are high in zinc, everyone who should watch their zinc-deficiency symptoms.

And if you're not sure whether you're zinc deficient, do a zinc blood plasma or serum test.

Simple...

Don't guess.

Don't assume.

Don't avoid a tough conclusion (or reality).

And if you absolutely cannot get sufficient zinc through your diet, make sure to buy a high-quality zinc supplement. 

Getting a year's worth of high-quality zinc supplements will cost you $50. That price is dirt-cheap.

Why?

Let's consider the example.

An example of sleep.

Assume that by supplementing with zinc, you're sleeping just 5% better during the night. I'm oversimplifying this calculation because zinc has many more benefits besides sleep that you already know of. For this example, let's also say you're earning just $10 per hour.

If you're sleeping 8 hours a night (equaling 480 minutes), you could save 24 minutes (5%) per night by taking a zinc supplement. On a yearly basis that's ~8,700 minutes, which equals ~140 hours.

Saving 140 hours on a yearly basis means making an additional $1,400 income. That's a massive gain for a $50 investment. And remember that in describing the scenario above, I've just included one specific zinc benefit. 

In reality, zinc may confer 5-15 unique benefits upon your life. In reality, you might be earning a lot more money than $10 per hour.

What's my point of this calculation?

Walking around with mineral deficiencies - such as zinc - is thus one of the most inefficient things you can do, for both your health, happiness, performance and getting the most out of your time in life.

An again, as promised, the fix is shockingly simple.

You can do it.

In fact, everyone can do it...

Want a simple infographic that describes the 10 most important lessons I got from reading hundreds of studies on zinc? Subscribe below:



*Post can contain affiliate links. Read my affiliate, medical, and privacy disclosure for more information.



For other articles, see:

Why Vitamin D Supplements Are A Poor Choice: Why You Need Sunlight Exposure Instead

Rethinking Magnesium: Why You're Deficient And Need To Supplement

Cannabis: CBD (Oil) And THC For Health? The Scientific Verdict (2018)

Vitamin K: Why You're Deficient (And What To Do About It)

The Ultimate Bone Broth, Gelatin, and Collagen Protein Guide (2018)

 

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