Zinc: Deficiency & Toxicity Symptoms

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  • 0:01 Zinc & Its Functions
  • 1:06 Deficiency
  • 2:41 Toxicity
  • 3:41 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

In this lesson, you'll learn about zinc, which is a trace mineral that is needed for a number of functions in your body. Learn how a zinc deficiency can negatively impact your health and impair your immune function. Also, learn about the signs and symptoms associated with zinc toxicity.

Zinc & Its Functions

The next time you walk into your favorite pizzeria, I want you to enjoy the wonderful aroma of the baking bread and savor every bite of your favorite slice, then I want you to say thank you to the trace mineral zinc. Why? Well, one of the functions of zinc is that it helps your senses of taste and smell. In fact, a zinc deficiency is often checked in a person who loses these senses. Yet, that's far from the only process enhanced by zinc.

I guess you could say that having the right amount of zinc makes you feel better as it also helps maintain your immune function, and it's important for wound healing. You might also think of zinc as an aid in your development as it helps cells grow and divide, helps make genetic materials and proteins and is important for the development of sex organs. Of course, these functions only work when you're meeting your body's need for zinc through your diet. In this lesson, we will focus on problems that can arise if there is too little or too much zinc in your body.


You get zinc from the foods you eat. Animal products are particularly good food sources of zinc. This includes meats, seafood, dairy products and eggs. There are plant foods that have zinc, such as legumes, nuts, seeds and some vegetables, but plant foods also contain substances that bind to zinc and prevent it from being absorbed by your body, so as a general rule you get more usable zinc from animal sources. So, if you follow a vegan diet plan that does not allow any animal products, then you may have to plan your diet carefully to make sure you're meeting your body's need.

If you don't get enough zinc in your diet, then you could develop symptoms of zinc deficiency, and your body could have difficulty carrying out its functions. For example, we learned that zinc helps maintain your immune function, so a deficiency of zinc could impair immune function. In fact, there are zinc supplements sold at your local pharmacy that are to be taken at the first sign of a cold. The hope is that the added zinc will give your immune system a boost and help you fight off the cold.

Because zinc helps with so many different functions in your body, we also see a zinc deficiency impairs wound healing, interferes with growth and development and interferes with sexual maturation and function. Having low levels of zinc can also causes diarrhea, hair loss, eye and skin lesions, a loss of appetite and impaired taste and smell.


While it would be hard to consume too much zinc from foods, it is possible to reach zinc toxicity if you take a high dose of supplements that contain the mineral. Initially, you would experience gastrointestinal problems, such as an upset stomach, abdominal cramps and vomiting. It's also interesting to note that taking in too much zinc can cause a loss of appetite and diarrhea and impair immune function, which, if you recall, were also symptoms associated with taking in too little zinc.

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