Zinc Deficiency: Symptoms & Treatments

[Article updated on 19/09/2023]

The body needs a variety of nutrients to function. One of these minerals is zinc. Although the body only needs a very small amount, a deficiency is entirely possible. When the body does not have the required quantity, an individual may show signs of deficiency. Discover in this article these signs, the appropriate treatments and the foods rich in zinc to favor.

Before reading on

I’m not an expert in this field, but I am passionate about nutrition and health.

The articles you’ll find on my site are the result of in-depth research that I’d like to share with you. However, I would like to stress that I am not a health professional and that my advice should in no way replace that of a qualified physician. I’m here to guide you, but it’s important that you consult a professional for specific questions or medical concerns. Your well-being is important. So be sure to consult the appropriate experts and take the best possible care of yourself.

What is Zinc deficiency?

Zinc deficiency or hypozincemia is characterized by an insufficient trace of this mineral in the body. This lack can cause numerous malfunctions since the execution of different processes depends on zinc. This essential mineral salt is naturally present in some foods.

Zinc deficiency
Zinc deficiency is characterized by an insufficient trace of this mineral in the body.

Among its many functions in the body, we can cite:

  • Cell formations, cell metabolism
  • Synthesis of molecules: formations of DNA, RNA and proteins
  • Support from around 300 enzymes to help them do their job
  • Responsible for the senses of smell and taste
  • Immune system booster
  • Helps an individual in their growth from a fetus to adolescence
  • Healing wounds

The body cannot store zinc: it is therefore important to take it regularly to replenish its quantity.

What are the causes of Zinc deficiency?

Low zinc consumption is the main cause of a deficiency. However, despite a diet rich in this mineral, certain factors can reduce its levels in the body leading to a deficiency.

Eating routines leading to a deficiency:

  • Veganism, vegetarianism and vegetarianism: the bioavailability of zinc in foods of animal origin is higher than in those of plant origin. In addition, legumes and seeds, the main foods for vegans, contain phytate which prevents its absorption.
  • Babies who feed exclusively on breast milk: breast milk provides the necessary zinc intake during the first six months, which is 2 mg per day. But beyond this age, the need increases by 3 mg per day and breast milk will no longer be able to deliver this dose. A lack in babies would stunt their growth.
  • Iron supplementation: iron can interfere with the level of zinc in the body and thus reduce it
  • Taking certain medications such as diuretics, antibiotics and penicillins can reduce the level in the body.
Zinc deficiency
A lack of zinc in babies could delay their growth

Certain medical conditions also promote Zinc deficiency:

  • Intestinal diseases such as Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, ulcerative colitis reduce the absorption of this mineral and promote its loss.
  • Chronic illnesses such as diabetes, chronic diarrhea, sickle cell disease, kidney and liver disease can lead to excessive zinc loss.
  • Alcoholism: alcohol consumption reduces the absorption of this mineral and increases its urinary secretion. In addition, alcoholics are not known for their healthy diet, which further increases the risk of zinc deficiency.
  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women: their need for nutrients increases since they feed two people at the same time, themselves and their child.

What are the symptoms of Zinc deficiency?

Many health problems can appear. The body can, however, suffer from a deficiency, but shows no external signs for a certain time. But over time, symptoms will begin to appear depending on the severity of the deficiency.

Loss of appetite

Among the many functions of zinc in the body is to influence ghrelin. A digestive hormone also known as the hunger hormone, one that stimulates the appetite and increases an individual’s desire to consume food. So, the less zinc there is, the less ghrelin will work and the more you lose your appetite. This also explains weight loss, another possible symptom.

Weakening of the immune system

This element has a great impact on the immune system. Even a slight deficiency can have negative effects on it. For example, a simple cold can take longer to heal if there is a shortage.

Slow healing of wounds

During an injury, zinc helps with blood clotting, the establishment of an immune defense where you have been injured and the restoration of degenerated skin cells to their normal state. Zinc is therefore required at each stage of healing; a deficiency can slow it down or even prevent it.

Zinc deficiency
Zinc helps in blood clotting.

Loss of sense of smell and taste

Zinc is also responsible for the sense of smell and taste. Although this deficiency is not very common, this symptom is very present in elderly people experiencing deficiency.


Zinc is crucial in the growth and development of an individual at a young age. Low consumption can therefore delay its growth. This delay mainly affects the development of the reproductive system. Hypozincemia in an adolescent can suddenly stop puberty leading to hypogonadism, low production of sex hormones.

There are other symptoms, but they are less common, such as hair loss, diarrhea, skin lesions and lack of concentration. Please note that not all of these symptoms will necessarily appear. These symptoms may indicate another nutritional deficiency so you should always go to the doctor to be sure.

What to do in case of zinc deficiency?

If you suspect a deficiency, you must go to a health professional to ensure and receive appropriate treatment. If you are already aware of this, take note of your health status. For example, if you have diarrhea for several days, contact your doctor. Likewise, if the treatment causes you any discomfort such as nausea, dizziness, migraine, etc. Finally, don’t forget to eat foods rich in zinc every day.

How to diagnose a zinc deficiency?

Hypozincemia is difficult to detect because of its low presence in the body. Therefore, a single test is not enough, especially for a mild deficiency. Your blood test may show a normal level, when in reality you are suffering from a deficiency. In addition to the blood test, the doctor can also perform a urine analysis and a hair analysis to determine the zinc concentration. The normal level is between 0.66 and 1.1 µg/mL of blood.

Zinc deficiency
Your blood test may show normal zinc levels.

Other tests may also be done to check if the symptoms are in fact signs of other illnesses, but not a deficiency. This includes :

  • Complete blood count: allows you to see the state of your red and white blood cells and determine whether symptoms are due to an infection or anemia.
  • Checking electrolyte levels such as calcium, potassium, sodium and chlorite. These levels make it possible to indicate insufficient nutrients in the body and certain diseases.
  • Thyroid hormone analysis: because thyroid deficiency and thyroid disease have some similar symptoms

Indeed, all these tests will only be carried out after careful questioning by the doctor about the patient’s medical history.


The treatment consists of simply increasing zinc consumption. First, by regularly consuming foods that contain it. And also by taking supplements if the doctor recommended it to you. Supplements come in several formats including capsules, tablets and lozenges. The dosage depends on the state of the deficiency, but for reference the normal dosage for an adult person is 8 mg/day for women and 11 mg/day for men.

Foods to choose to limit zinc deficiency

Zinc deficiency
Foods rich in zinc.

Foods are also used as a preventative measure. Here are the foods richest in zinc:

  • Oysters, crabs, shrimps, lobsters
  • Beef, pork chop
  • Tomatoes
  • Cashew nuts
  • Almond
  • Sesame seeds, pumpkin, squash
  • Dairy products: cheese and milk
  • Eggs
  • Dark chocolate
  • Beans with bacon