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December 2006

Mild Zinc Deficiency “Common” in the US

Zinc deficiency affects more than 2 billion people in both developing and developed nations.49 Moreover, zinc and iron deficits often go hand in hand.

A diet lacking adequate sources of bioavailable zinc (such as red meat) and high in dietary fiber (vegetarian or grain-based diets) carries a double risk of zinc deficiency. Certain dietary fibers, calcium, and phytates (present in cereal products, legumes, and nuts) effectively block zinc absorption, while lack of beef (the richest natural source of zinc) leads to an inadequate dietary supply of this essential nutrient. Because beef is also the best source of bioavailable iron (except for certain artificially fortified foods), low zinc and low iron often occur simultaneously. Low iron in the bloodstream leads to iron-deficiency anemia, characterized by listlessness in adults and physical and neurological abnormalities in young children.50,51

According to University of Texas researcher Harold Sandstead, data from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III) suggest that “mild [zinc] deficiency is . . . common in the US.”52 It may well be important, therefore, to supplement one’s diet with zinc on a daily basis. The Institute of Medicine has established a zinc RDA value for men of 11 mg/day. For women, the RDA ranges from 8 mg/day for healthy adult women to 14 mg/day for lactating women. Alcoholism and chronic diarrhea may seriously deplete zinc stores, and evidence suggests that the elderly suffer zinc deficiency more commonly than younger adults.53

Long-term supplementation with high levels of zinc may deplete copper levels.54 Thus, individuals supplementing with zinc may need to supplement concomitantly with copper.

Zinc Deficiency Threatens Developing Nations

Zinc’s value extends far beyond its ability to boost antioxidant defenses, strengthen immunity, and relieve cold symptoms. Particularly in developing nations, ensuring adequate zinc intake may be a matter of life or death, particularly for children.

Infectious pathogens associated with contaminated water, such as typhoid fever and cholera, are endemic in developing nations, where they cause dangerously dehydrating diarrhea. Children are at special risk. In countries where zinc is often deficient in the diet, zinc supplementation has been shown to reduce infant mortality and decrease susceptibility to pneumonia, diarrhea, skin infections, and fever.31-33 In fact, the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund have endorsed zinc supplementation as a cost-effective treatment for diarrhea, which may be life threatening to vulnerable children.

Scientists in India recently noted that “a large section of the world population is at risk of developing zinc deficiency.”34 Traceable to inadequate zinc content in the soil and a diet heavily reliant on cereals and grains, zinc deficiency is believed to be responsible for a variety of ailments. According to the Indian scientists, “Zinc deficiency in children results in stunting, underweight, and increased risk of infections like diarrhea and pneumonia.”34 One researcher noted that infant mortality is significantly reduced when zinc supplements are given to low-birth-weight babies for one year, adding that “zinc deficiency may have adverse effects on physical growth and neurodevelopment.”35


Zinc Promotes Healthy Skin in Children

Infants and children are prone to developing dermatitis, an itchy, inflammatory skin condition. When zinc was orally administered to zinc-deficient infants suffering from dermatitis, all experienced a resolution of their symptoms.48

Overwhelming scientific evidence from around the world underscores the critical importance of zinc to human health. Given this preponderance of evidence indicating zinc’s utter indispensability to health—and the widespread prevalence of zinc deficiency—it is prudent to include this potent micronutrient in one’s daily vitamin/mineral regimen.


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53. Available at: Accessed September 26, 2006.

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