Zinc is an essential mineral that plays a role in many of your body's functions, including metabolism and how your body catalyzes enzymes. The nutrient is also vital to the healthy upkeep of your neurological and immune systems and the structure of your cells' membranes. A deficiency of zinc can cause a number of physical symptoms, including the flaking of the scalp referred to as dandruff.
As with most vitamins and minerals, the USDA has established a scale of adequate intake (AI) of zinc for both children and adults. Zinc is measured in milligrams both in the foods you eat and in dietary supplements. Consuming the standard suggested daily intake of zinc can help prevent dandruff and other deficiency-related complications. Children under 3 years old require only 2 to 3 mg of zinc daily, while kids between the ages of 4 and 8 should consume 5 mg daily; during the tween years, the AI rises to 8 mg. Male adolescents and adults over the age of 14 have a recommended daily intake of 11 mg of zinc. Females in the same age range only need 8 to 9 mg, but during pregnancy and periods of breastfeeding the suggested amount rises to 11 to 13 mg of zinc each day.
Eating a diet rich in zinc can help prevent and resolve dandruff, according to MayoClinic.com. Adding the mineral to your meals, as well as omega-3 fatty acids and other vitamins, can help build up a healthy scalp that is less prone to itching and flaking. Zinc is naturally present in animal proteins, including pork, beef, poultry, oysters and crab meat. Vegetarians can protect their scalp by including baked beans, chickpeas, cheddar cheese and a variety of nuts in their diet. Peanuts, almonds and cashews are among the nuts that offer approximately 1 to 1.6 mg of zinc per ounce. You can drink milk to battle dandruff as well; a full cup of the beverage contains 1.8 mg of zinc.
Anti-dandruff shampoos that contain pyrithione zinc can be another way to fight the zinc deficiency that is causing your scalp to itch, crust and flake. Pyrithione zinc soothes your scalp from the outside by slowing down the rapid turnover of skin cells, which causes the flaking. Using anti-dandruff zinc-based shampoos at least twice a week will usually control the symptoms. However, it's important to remember that using a zinc shampoo to fight and prevent dandruff does not offer the same benefits as taking zinc orally through foods or vitamin supplementation. After all, using pyrithione zinc shampoo does not boost your immune function or reverse neurological impairment, both of which may be signs of a zinc deficiency.
Zinc deficiency is not the only cause of dandruff. Stress, yeast infections of the scalp and sensitivity to hair care products can also contribute to the flaking of skin on your scalp. If your zinc levels are steady and you are using anti-dandruff shampoo yet you are still experiencing symptoms, consult with your doctor.