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General Information

DEFINITION--Inadequate amounts of zinc in body cells. This affects function of the testes, liver and muscles, and affects the structure of bones, teeth, hair and skin. Zinc is a vital part of many enzymes that facilitate chemical reactions necessary for normal body function--including immune function and skin healing.

BODY PARTS INVOLVED--All body cells.

SEX OR AGE MOST AFFECTED--All ages, but most common in children during periods of rapid growth (10 to 18 years).


    2 or more of the following:

  • Poor appetite.
  • Poor growth.
  • Sensations of unpleasant tastes and odors, and decreased senses of taste and smell.
  • Decreased sex drive.
  • Darkening of skin all over the body.
  • Sparse hair growth.
  • Deformed nails.


  • Excessive consumption of substances that bind zinc and prevent its absorption from the gastrointestinal tract. These include calcium, vitamin D, high fiber diet and phytate enzyme (found in whole-meal bread).
  • Surgical removal of any part of the gastrointestinal tract, especially the stomach.
  • Parasite infestation in the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Excessive milk consumption in preschool children.


  • Alcoholism. Alcohol increases the excretion of zinc.
  • Use of cortisone drugs, which increase zinc excretion.
  • Pregnancy.
  • Diabetes, kidney disease or cirrhosis.
  • Burns or major trauma.


  • Adults should not drink or eat more than the recommended amounts of milk, other dairy products or whole-meal bread. Keep calcium intake at 1500 mg or less daily.
  • Don't take large doses of vitamin D supplements.
  • Take zinc supplements if you have had gastrointestinal surgery.
  • Obtain medical treatment for parasite infections.
  • Don't drink more than 1 or 2 alcoholic drinks, if any, a day.

What To Expect


  • Your own observation of symptoms.
  • Medical history and physical exam by a doctor.
  • Laboratory blood studies of zinc levels; other tests to determine any underlying disorder.


  • Home care after diagnosis.
  • Doctor's treatment.


  • Iron-deficiency anemia. Zinc is necessary for iron absorption.
  • Poor wound healing.
  • Liver and spleen enlargement.
  • Excess zinc replacement or overdose may interfere with body's manufacture of necessary enzymes.

PROBABLE OUTCOME--Usually curable in 2 months with zinc supplements and removal or treatment of the underlying causes.

How To Treat

GENERAL MEASURES----Follow your doctor's instructions. Compliance with your medical treatment plan is essential for the best outcome.

MEDICATION--Your doctor may prescribe zinc supplements. Take with milk or meals to prevent stomach upset.

ACTIVITY--No restrictions.

DIET--Eat foods high in zinc such as red meat. Avoid excessive intake of whole-meal bread.

Call Your Doctor If

    You or your child have symptoms of zinc deficiency.

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