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Signs of Zinc Deficiency

By Sheri Kay ; Updated August 14, 2017

Zinc is important for immune system function, wound healing, cell growth and division, as well as a normal sense of taste and smell. It’s found in seafood, beef, chicken, nuts and legumes. Adults need 40 milligrams zinc per day, while children need from 4 to 34 milligrams per day, according to the Institute of Medicine. People who don’t get enough zinc every day might suffer from signs of zinc deficiency, which include growth retardation, loss of appetite and immune system depression.

Severe Zinc Deficiency

A review article published in the March 2009 issue of the journal, “Current Opinion in Gastroenterology,” indicates that excessive alcohol use, penicillamine therapy and genetic disease can cause severe zinc deficiency. The Office of Dietary Supplements suggests taking zinc supplements at least two hours before or after taking penicillamine to avoid a reaction. Signs of severe zinc deficiency include skin problems called dermatitis, hair loss, diarrhea, weight loss, infections, neurological disorders and psychological impairment. Further, wounds might not heal properly -- and severe zinc deficiency can be fatal if you don't treat it.

Moderate Zinc Deficiency

The signs of a moderate zinc deficiency include growth retardation and gonads that are smaller than normal in boys. Other signs include rough skin, appetite loss, lethargy, some loss of immune system function and problems with wound healing. Neurosensory changes can also occur, meaning you'll experience changes in how your body feels and senses stimuli.

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Mild Zinc Deficiency

A mild dietary deficiency of zinc slows down growth and development in children. Men might suffer from decreased serum testosterone levels and sexual dysfunction. Immune system impairment, a build-up of ammonia in the blood, problems tasting foods, weight loss and problems seeing things in the dark might also occur in both men and women.

Causes of Zinc Deficiency

Eating a nutrient-poor diet is only one cause of zinc deficiency; other causes include both disease and non-disease states. Malabsorption syndrome, sickle cell disease, chronic liver and kidney disease, and excessive sweating in hot tropical climates might all cause zinc deficiency. You can also lose zinc when you suffer from injuries, burns and blood loss, as well as when you have major surgery or infections. If you think you have signs of zinc deficiency, speak to your doctor.

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