Zinc deficiency- Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatments

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The zinc requirement by our body will be in small amounts and hence the name trace minerals. Zinc is required for various enzymes to carry out significant chemical reactions.

According to NCBI, an adult will contain about 2–3 grams of zinc in their body. However, the accurate zinc status of an individual will be difficult to measure when they are ill.

Additionally, zinc is the second most required trace mineral of the body, while iron holds the first place.

Zinc is required for various functions of the body, and a deficiency of the trace mineral can lead to various illnesses.

Zinc deficiency in humans is increasing and is considered to be one of the emerging causes of malnourishment. This deficiency is dominant in high cereal and low animal food consumption.

The major cause of zinc deficiency can occur when its bioavailability decreases. It is not necessary for you to have to consume low-zinc diet food. Even if you consume foods that are rich in zinc, if the bioavailability of zinc is zero, it can lead to zinc deficiency.

According to NCBI, the primary inhibitor of zinc is phytic acid. Zinc is an important mineral for lactating women, and their requirement increases. Thus, pregnant and lactating women are at an increased risk of zinc depletion.

The deficiency in lactating women can affect their children. When there is zinc deficiency during the growth period, it can lead to growth failure.

According to NCBI, zinc deficiency can affect the epidermal, gastrointestinal, immune, skeletal, central nervous and reproductive systems.

There are ways to combat zinc deficiency— dietary modification, bio-fortification, supplementation and fortification.

Symptoms of Zinc deficiency

Zinc deficiency can lead to various health issues. In the starting stage, it damages the healthy skin, and cracks will be visible. When the rash is treated with moisturiser, it will not get better.

These symptoms may indicate that you have a zinc deficiency. The other symptoms of zinc deficiency are discussed below.

Hair loss

Zinc is required for the functioning and growth of cells. When there is a deficiency of zinc, healthy hair can be damaged. Zinc deficiency can also break your hair and weaken it.

Zinc plays a major role in regulating the protein that helps the hair to grow. The deficiency of the mineral can lead to a disruption of protein formation, which eventually results in hair loss.

Nail changes

Zinc is a trace mineral that is responsible for a person’s healthy skin, nails and hair. Nail discolouration can occur when a person has a deficiency in zinc minerals.

The clinical term is nail dystrophy which causes discolouration and distortion of the affected person’s nail.

Zinc deficiency leads to white marks on the nails, and these white marks are common in young children and adolescents.


Zinc deficiency can cause diarrhoea. According to NCBI, the mechanism by which diarrhoea is caused is still unknown.

According to World Health Organisation (WHO), if a person is affected with acute diarrhoea, 20 mg of zinc per day and the recommended dosage period will be 10–14 days.

If there is a deficiency or overconsumption of zinc, the intestines may not function well, which can lead to diarrhoea and inflammation.

Eye problems

The human eyes contain the highest amount of zinc, and if the zinc is deficient, it can lead to eye problems. Zinc plays a major role in the essential enzyme production—superoxide dismutase.

The enzyme is also involved in the formation of certain visual pigments in the retina. So, zinc deficiency can affect your retina and lead to night blindness.

Weight loss

When there is unexplained weight loss, it can indicate that the person has zinc deficiency. Zinc deficiency can also lead to major mood swings, depression and irritability.

Zinc regulates metabolism, and deficiency can lead to proteins, fats and carbohydrates not being metabolised. When there is a deficiency of essential nutrients, it can lead to malnutrition and weight loss.

Lack of taste

According to NCBI, some reports say the loss of taste and smell is linked to zinc deficiency.

What are the causes of zinc deficiency?

The most common cause of zinc deficiency occurs when the body is unable to absorb zinc from dietary sources. This can be common in older people and people affected with certain digestive system diseases.

Not consuming enough zinc-rich foods can lead to deficiency. The other major cause is people affected with chronic conditions like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

People who consume a vegan diet can also have a low zinc absorption rate. Vegan foods have less zinc when compared to animal foods. This can be a major reason for zinc deficiency.

Vegan foods contain phytates which impair the absorption of zinc from the foods. The phytates bind to the zinc and make it difficult for the body to absorb.

Another cause of zinc deficiency is age. When people age, the variety of foods they consume becomes less due to reduced digestion. This can also be a major reason for zinc deficiency.

Risk Factors for zinc deficiency

Pregnant and lactating women are at a high risk of zinc deficiency. Zinc depletion occurs at an increased rate due to body requirements.

Young children and adolescents are also at an increased risk of zinc depletion. Infants get their zinc requirement from their mothers, and if there is a deficiency in the mother’s milk, it can affect the baby.

Adolescents will require zinc for their puberty growth, which generally occur between the age of 10–15 years. Even though the growth stops, zinc will be required to repair the damaged tissues.

Diagnosis of zinc deficiency

When these symptoms are exhibited, your doctor will recommend you test for zinc deficiency. For an accurate diagnosis of zinc deficiency, a previous health history will be required.

If there is any underlying reason for zinc deficiency, it should be identified, and the diagnosis will depend on the history of the illness.

The diet of the patient will also be enquired to ensure that the person consumes enough zinc-rich foods.

Treatment of Zinc deficiency

Zinc deficiency can be treated with proper supplements. Foods like fortified cereals, chickpeas, oatmeal, milk, baked beans, yoghurt, oysters and other animal foods contain zinc. Research states that the consumption of animal foods increases the bioavailability of zinc.

According to NCBI research, zinc supplements have reduced the risk of infection in deficiency cases. In infants over six months old, it reduced the duration of diarrhoea.

The treatment for zinc deficiency usually begins with oral tablets. Adults will require about 20-40 mg daily, and this dosage can satisfy the daily zinc requirement.

In patients with comorbidities, oral replacement with a dosage of 1-2 mg/kg per day will be a standard therapy with a life-long supplementation.

Patients that are administered zinc supplements should be monitored every three to six months to avoid overdosing on zinc supplements.

What are the ways to prevent Zinc deficiency?

Zinc deficiency can be prevented with proper dietary correction. The common complaint for zinc deficiency is less absorption by the body.

So, you can soak the beans in water before cooking. This method will reduce the phytates and help the body absorb zinc easily.

Consumption of animal foods is also recommended to prevent zinc deficiency that is related to dietary sources.

When to consult a doctor? 

Consult your doctor if you have symptoms like

  • Unintentional weight loss,
  • Eye-related problems,
  • Nail-colour changes,
  • Lack of taste and smell,
  • Diarrhoea,
  • Recurrent infections,
  • Skin manifestations,
  • Delayed wound healing and
  • Growth failure.

Early stages of zinc deficiency can be treated easily if the risk factors are known with the help of a healthcare professional. However, if the symptoms are severe and the underlying cause is not clear, further consultations with a gastroenterologist, endocrinologist, nutritionist and dermatologist will be required to treat it properly.


Zinc deficiency has become more common for people who restrict their diets and have malabsorption problems.

The deficiency can be reversed with proper dietary changes and supplementations. Animal foods are rich in zinc and also increase bioavailability.

However, be aware of your zinc supplementations. It can lead to an overdose of zinc and causes symptoms like nausea and vomiting.


What is zinc deficiency?

A deficiency of the mineral zinc means that there is less intake of zinc mineral. Zinc deficiency can also occur when the bioavailability of zinc is less.

How to cure  zinc deficiency?

Zinc deficiency can be cured by implementing certain dietary changes and taking certain supplements. However, the dosage will be decided by your doctor.

Is a doctor consultation necessary for zinc deficiency?

Pregnant and lactating women who have a deficiency of zinc minerals will require a doctor’s consultation.

Is Zinc deficiency curable?

Zinc deficiency is curable. With proper dietary changes and supplements, zinc deficiency can be cured.


The Information including but not limited to text, graphics, images and other material contained on this blog are intended for education and awareness only. No material on this blog is intended to be a substitute for professional medical help including diagnosis or treatment. It is always advisable to consult medical professional before relying on the content. Neither the Author nor Star Health and Allied Insurance Co. Ltd accepts any responsibility for any potential risk to any visitor/reader.

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