Zinc, a mineral essential to human life, plays a role in the the function of many vital organs, the central nervous system, and the immune and reproductive systems. Deficiencies in zinc can disrupt the function of these systems and increase cellular damage through oxidative stress. While severe zinc deficiencies are rare, marginal zinc deficiency is much more common and affects approximately two billion people worldwide, according to the Linus Pauling Institute.
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Serious Health Consequences
When zinc is not present in the body in sufficient amounts, there can be serious health consequences. Children in particular can experience impaired physical and neuropsychological development, as well as heightened susceptibility to deadly infections. A study published in 2009 in the "European Journal of Clinical Nutrition" notes that zinc deficiency is estimated to cause over 450,000 deaths per year in children under the age of five -- which accounts for a total of 4.4 percent of global childhood deaths.
Compromised Immune Function
According to a 2002 article published in the "European Journal of Clinical Nutrition," it's well recognized that zinc plays an important role in the development and integrity of the immune system. Even mild zinc deficiencies can impair the function of vital immune system components. For example, zinc is required to activate white blood cells, known as T-lymphocytes, which help the body fight off disease and harmful substances. Those who are lacking in zinc are more susceptible to infections. Further evidence is provided by zinc supplementation possibly being useful in treating common cold symptoms.
Male Health and More
A study published in 2010 in the "Journal of Human Reproductive Sciences" notes the relationship between zinc and quality and quantity of semen. According to the authors, low zinc content in semen may adversely affect its quality.The National Institutes Of Health Office of Dietary Supplements notes that effects of zinc deficiencies can include loss of appetite and growth retardation. More severe deficiencies, which are most often caused by other health conditions, can include hair loss, diarrhea, impotence, hypogonadism in males and skin and eye lesions.
High Risk Populations
According to the Linus Pauling Institute, people with the highest risk for zinc deficiency include children and adolescents, premature or low birth weight infants, pregnant and breast-feeding women and people with anorexia nervosa. Also at risk are alcoholics diagnosed with alcoholic liver disease, strict vegetarians, adults over 65, individuals with severe or persistent diarrhea, and individuals with sickle cell anemia, chronic renal disease, Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis.
Supplementation maybe an effective tool in avoiding zinc deficiencies for those who may lack sufficient dietary zinc. A 2009 review published in "Current Opinion in Gastroenterology" notes that zinc supplementation may be able to protect against many of the diseases brought on by zinc deficiency.The Office of Dietary Supplements also states that the negative effects on immune function, caused by zinc deficiencies, can be remedied with zinc supplementation.