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The Role of Zinc in Anemia

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Zinc is an important trace mineral that plays many roles in the body. While zinc is often credited with boosting the immune system, it does so much more. One of the little-known benefits that zinc provides is anemia prevention. If you suffer from anemia, a lack of zinc could be to blame. Find out more about this curious connection below.

Do you know the importance of zinc in your diet? Zinc is a trace mineral that is incredibly important for your body. Zinc deficiency is somewhat common, but some doctors misdiagnose zinc deficiency as other minor disorders, including anemia.

In fact, anemia and zinc intake are closely related. According to research, a lack of zinc or too much zinc can interfere with copper intake and iron intake, which often triggers anemia. The right balance of zinc, iron, copper, and other trace minerals work together to prevent anemia.

If you suspect you may have anemia, look into your zinc levels along with iron and the other common causes of anemia.

Symptoms of Anemia

Anemia is marked by several symptoms that are common and generally mild. However, chronic anemia damages the heart and may eventually cause heart attacks. Up to 20 percent of all American adults have some form of anemia, ranging from extremely mild to severe. The most common signs of anemia include:

Signs of Anemia
  • Restless legs
  • Constant fatigue
  • Pale skin
  • Cold hands and feet or tingling in the hands and feet
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath

Finding the Right Balance of Zinc

Zinc is one of the minerals that is important to take in balance. Too little, and anemia and other problems can strike. However, too much can also trigger anemia. According to the USDA, the recommended daily intake of zinc is between 8 and 11 mg. The USDA states that all doses under 40 mg are safe for human consumption, but intake levels higher than 40 mg can cause problems with copper levels and lead to anemia.

A study published in the Journal of Clinical Pathology found that over-dosing with zinc (which is commonly added to cold medicine and supplements), caused anemia in 13 out of 52 patients studied. Still, researchers estimate that about 2 billion people are deficient in zinc, and that zinc overdose is rare.

Zinc is not only used to balance copper and iron in the blood to prevent anemia, but it also has antioxidant properties that fight DNA damage. Researchers estimate that about 12 percent of all adults in the United States are deficient in zinc. A lack of zinc has been tied closely with the spread of free radicals that cause cancer, autoimmune diseases, and infections.

Zinc plays the following roles in the body:

  • Cell growth
  • Immune booster
  • Balances blood sugar
  • Regulates copper levels
  • Maintains proper taste and smell
  • Gene transcription (which is how your cells replicate properly and reduces the risk of cancer)
  • Improves memory
  • Increases attention span

Signs of Zinc Deficiency

Zinc deficiencies are common due to two factors. First, the modern American diet does not contain much natural zinc, which is found in seafood and many seeds. Zinc is also a harder mineral to absorb, particularly for some people, which further increases the risk for zinc deficiencies. Common zinc deficiency signs include:

  • Depression
  • Impaired sense of taste
  • Impaired sense of smell
  • Lack of appetite
  • Frequent colds
  • Frequent infections
  • Slow growth in children

Supplementing with Zinc to Reduce Anemia Risk

Zinc supplements can help prevent anemia, but an overload of zinc can also cause anemia, so a delicate balance must be reached. The easiest way to determine if you have too little or too much zinc is to take a blood test. Your doctor can give you a blood test to determine if you are anemia and what other vitamins you are deficient in.

However, it is unlikely that you will overdose on zinc if you keep your dosage lower than 40 mg per day, which is easy as long as you don't purchase a zinc supplement that contains more than 20 mg. Pregnant women can also usually safely take zinc supplements as babies require a larger dose of every vitamin and nutrient.

Vegetarians also may need to increase zinc intake as zinc in vegetables is harder for the body to absorb. You can also increase your zinc intake by eating zinc-rich foods, including:

  • Liver
  • Beef
  • Mushrooms
  • Spinach
  • Sea vegetables
  • Peas
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Seafood
  • Lamb

For reference, four ounces of red meat will give you about 40 percent of the required daily zinc intake. Since most food sources only contain small amounts of zinc, it is likely you won't suffer any overdosing side effects by taking a small supplement of zinc along with eating a healthy diet.

However, if you notice nausea, vomiting, headaches, irritability, a "metal" taste in the mouth, or trouble smelling after taking zinc supplements, you may have overdosed and should cut back on zinc in supplement form.

Other Supporting Nutrients for Anemia

Zinc is not the only mineral tied into anemia. In fact, iron-deficient anemia is far more common, although some medical professionals believe that zinc and copper levels play just as much of a role in anemia as iron. If you have anemia, you will want to add more of the following nutrients to your diet through food or supplement sources.

Iron

Iron triggers anemia more commonly in women than men, simply due to women's monthly blood loss. However, both men and women can be deficient in iron. Deficiencies are more common in the elderly. A lack of iron is a double-edged sword in women, as too little iron leads to heavier periods, which leads to further iron loss. Iron supplements are usually given to individuals who have iron-deficient anemia, which is determined by a simple blood test. Women are advised to take iron supplements throughout pregnancy and while breastfeeding to improve their healing and provide enough iron for their infant.

Copper

Copper should always be taken in conjunction with zinc supplements. Too much zinc in the body will prevent the absorption of copper. Copper deficiency is often triggered by an overload of zinc. Copper is not required in large amounts and many vitamin blends contain the right balance of zinc and copper. Avoid any zinc supplements that do not also include copper.

Vitamin C

Studies show that vitamin C is vital for preventing anemia. Vitamin C helps to improve the absorption of iron and other nutrients in the body. Not only does vitamin C increase iron intake, it also helps prevent the accumulation of plaque in the blood vessels and keeps your blood moving properly, further reducing anemia risk.

Selenium

Selenium is also associated with anemia. Studies show that individuals with anemia are often low in selenium and B vitamins. Low selenium levels are commonly associated with anemia in individuals with chronic illnesses, such as HIV. Children who are deficient in iron are often more likely to also be low in selenium. These two nutrients work together to prevent and reverse anemia.

Folic Acid

Folic acid is an important vitamin that prevents some birth defects in infants. Too little folic acid in the diet can also lead to megaloblastic anemia. One common cause of folic acid deficiency is women's birth control, which can lead to an increased risk for anemia. Pregnant women should always take an additional folic acid supplement to ensure that they are getting enough of the nutrient to support both their own health and the health of their unborn baby.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 prevents the development of megaloblastic anemia. Commonly, a deficiency in vitamin B12 and folic acid will trigger this form of anemia. Usually, supplementing with vitamin B12 until anemia is gone is enough to completely reverse the issue and continued supplements prevent the anemia from coming back when used in conjunction with other remedies.

Zinc is Essential to Prevent Anemia

Although iron usually gets most of the focus when trying to reverse and cure anemia, other nutrients are equally important. Zinc is a little tricky to take, simply because it is possible to overdose on the mineral. However, as long as you do not supplement with more than 20 mg per day, you likely will not have any overdosing problems. Zinc should always be taken with copper and other anemia-fighting nutrients to keep all nutrients in the body balanced and your body's systems working properly.

Supplementing with missing nutrients combined with a healthy diet are the best way to completely reverse anemia once and for all. Before starting any supplement routine, check with your doctor or other health professional to make sure the supplements will not interact with any medications or cause health problems.

Next Article: Home Remedies to Treat Anemia