Did you know that moderate zinc deficiency is bad for your digestion? Zinc has an impact on the essential metabolic function for most organisms. The Chair of Animal Nutrition at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has found that even a minimal amount of zinc deficiency impairs digestion, albeit without any typical symptoms such as skin problems or fatigue. Even a slight zinc deficiency in an animal’s diet impedes pancreatic digestive activity and results in significant digestive impairment.
In nature clinical zinc deficiency does not really occur, in animals or in subclinical zinc deficiency. The trace element only exists in small amounts in an organism so it has to be consumed by way of nutrition.
The first start of zinc depletion occurs without any visible symptoms, but minute changes can be identified in both the blood and the liver. Piglets that had just been weaned were used in a study and fed a diet containing different amounts of zinc to develop early-stage zinc deficiency. The scientists had no other way to trace and analyze what effects dwindling zinc deposits would have on the animals’ metabolisms. It was observed that the body tried to absorb zinc more efficiently, while on the other, it reduced pancreatic zinc excretion. Various hypotheses were derived since clinical zinc deficiency reduced the test animals’ appetites, i.e. zinc deficiency had a direct impact on the vagus nerve. The accumulation of undigested food inside the gastrointestinal tract due to zinc deficiency results in feeling less hungry.
The control center for food digestion and energy homeostasis in the body is the pancreas. Zinc is pumped into the gastrointestinal tract in order to maintain a consistent zinc level. If an organism is depleted of zinc, it will reduce its pancreatic zinc excretion to a minimum.
There is a direct correlation between the amount of digestive enzymes inside the pancreas and zinc levels in the organism as a whole. Short intervals of zinc deficiency in the diet should therefore be avoided. In Scientist Brugger’s conclusion from his study, he found that when applying results to the human body it is suggested that an egg or two more, once in a while, can do no harm. He also advises vegans, vegetarians and older people to monitor their zinc intake. A subclinical zinc deficiency in humans has been attributed to increased levels of inflammation markers and reduced immunocompetence. So, for those of us that are in that “senior” category, it might be smart to keep track of our zinc levels!
Dr Fredda Branyon