Updated: Jun 22, 2020
One of the things I have noticed working with young children with gut issues, allergies and development disorders is that many of them are severely deficient in the mineral zinc. With these children I have supplemented with zinc as part of their treatment plans (after testing) and positive changes have occurred quite quickly.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) the prevalence of zinc deficiency throughout childhood is estimated to be high. It is regarded as a major public health problem with multiple health consequences.
What is Zinc?
Zinc is a trace mineral that is involved with over 70 enzyme reactions in the body connected to growth, metabolism and digestion. Zinc is not stored for long periods of time in the body so we need to have a daily supply of zinc from our diet. As zinc is a trace mineral we only need a small amount each day. The Recommended Dietary Intake (RDI) for children age 7 months - 3 years is 3mg, age 4 - 8 is 4mg and age 9 - 13 is 6 mg per day.
Zinc is important for the following functions in the body:
Proper immune function
Gut health and the digestion and absorption of food
Mental clarity and function
Skin health, hair growth and wound healing
Hormone balance and reproduction
What are the consequences of zinc deficiency in children?
Zinc plays an important role in child development. It is a trace mineral that is present in the brain and contributes to its structure and function. Recent evidence suggests that zinc deficiency may be associated with deficits in activity, attention and motor development. In children (and adults) severe zinc deficiency can cause abnormal cerebellar function and impair behavioural and emotional responses.
Some of the common signs of zinc deficiency in children:
Failure to thrive
Motor development and coordination issues
Poor attention span
Anxiety and depression
Low immunity - repeated infections
Fussy eating, due to trouble tasting food as a result of loss of senses of taste and smell.
Poor wound healing
Skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and acne
White spots on fingernails
The following infants and children are more at risk of zinc deficiency:
Infants who are born prematurely
Infants and children who have issues with absorption due to gastrointestinal problems such as Celiac disease, Crohn's disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Infants and children with chronic diarrhoea
Infants and children with allergies
Infants and children who have inadequate dietary intake of zinc
Infants born from a mother who was zinc deficient during pregnancy and breastfeeding due to inadequate dietary intake (e.g. vegan, vegetarian) or gastrointestinal issues (poor absorption).
So what are the best food sources of zinc?
If you think your baby or child may be deficient in zinc the best course of action is to try to increase their dietary intake where possible, although it can be easier said than done if they have a low appetite or have a tendency to be fussy with food, which is a zinc deficiency sign due to an impaired sense of taste and smell. The best food sources of zinc are pumpkin seeds (great ground into smoothies or used in baking) grass fed beef, lamb, pork, chicken, cashew nuts, chickpeas, mushrooms, yoghurt and spinach.
If zinc deficiency is as a result of poor absorption due to gastrointestinal issues, then it is important to also look at improving digestive function and healing the gut lining.
My recommended zinc supplement for children is the Zinc Oral Drops by Clinicians which can be added to drinks and foods. This product is safe to take from age 1 upwards using the recommended dosage listed on the bottle.