Zinc is an essential trace metal necessary for human health. Your body requires a daily intake of zinc to maintain proper immune function, wound healing, blood clotting, protein and DNA synthesis, and cell division. Zinc also promotes normal growth and development. If you have low levels of zinc, it may mean you have a moderate or severe zinc deficiency.
Low levels of zinc can contribute to several health problems, including slow growth, impaired immune function and appetite loss. You may also develop hair loss, eye and skin lesions, nausea, diarrhea, delayed sexual maturation, impotence and hypogonadism in males, weight loss, slow wound healing, taste and smell abnormalities, and lethargy. These symptoms are not specific to a zinc deficiency and can occur with other health conditions. Therefore, you need a medical examination by a health care professional for the diagnosis.
Though rare in the United States, moderate zinc deficiencies can occur and are often associated with intestinal disorders like celiac disease that interfere with food absorption, chronic kidney failure and alcoholism. Low levels can also be associated with HIV, depression, Type 2 diabetes and sickle cell disease.
To boost your zinc levels, eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and animal products high in zinc. By far, the richest source of zinc is oysters. You will obtain about 76 mg after eating six medium oysters. Other excellent sources are red meat, poultry and fortified ready-to-eat cereals. Baked beans, chickpeas, nuts and dairy products provide moderate amounts of zinc. You can also take a zinc supplement to increase blood levels of zinc, but consult a medical professional before you do so.
The Institute of Medicine recommends a daily intake of 8 mg per day for adult women and 11 mg per day for adult men to prevent a zinc deficiency. Teenage girls should aim for 8 to 9 mg per day, while pregnant and lactating women require between 11 and 14 mg per day.