A discussion on the importance of Zinc. Zinc is one of the most essential micro-minerals yet deficiency in both men and women is common. Despite its involvement in more than 200 enzyme systems in the body, its nutritional importance is often overlooked. Zinc plays an integral role in conception, maintaining pregnancy, foetal development, labour, postpartum recovery and breastfeeding. Sources of zinc include high fibre grains, seeds, eggs, legumes, brazil nuts, herring, meat, parmesan and other hard cheeses.
Zinc is one of the first supplements recommended for fertility problems. For further information check out Female Infertility. Zinc is also an important component of semen. Deficiency in males is linked to a low sperm count and is thought to produce sperm that are too weak to penetrate the egg. Zinc deficiency can be caused by the following: Anorexia nervosa, fad diets, ‘weight-loss’ diets, a strict vegetarian diet or restricted protein diet, alcoholism or substance abuse and long-term intravenous therapy. Female oral contraceptives are also known to decrease zinc levels if taken consistently over long periods of time. Because zinc is closely linked to hormone production, women who stop taking the pill in the hope of conceiving often require six months or more for their hormones to balance and their menstrual cycles to regulate. During this time, a balanced diet and zinc supplementation is strongly recommended. The recommended daily dosage of zinc varies from 20-60 mg, ideally to be taken on an empty stomach and separately to other supplements other than copper.
An adequate supply of zinc is needed for both you and your baby’s development throughout pregnancy. Deficiency is thought to cause miscarriage, foetal growth retardation, stillbirth and congenital handicap. An important component of collagen, zinc is necessary to promote the health and elasticity of the skin and connective tissue to safeguard against pre-term rupture of the membranes. It also promotes elasticity of the perineum during labour and birth. If the perineal area is able to stretch readily, tearing or episiotomy is less likely. It is known that women who are zinc deficient tend to have longer labours and often require more medical intervention. Zinc is required in the production of prostaglandins and hormones essential to initiate labour and because it is involved in the metabolism of complex carbohydrates, it is also important for energy production.
Deficiency is also linked to weakening of the uterine muscle tissue, effecting the efficiency of labour contractions.
As your pregnancy nears its end, hormonal changes prepare your body for childbirth. Zinc packs into the placenta and copper levels rise. Zinc and copper work together to balance each other and if one is deficient, the delicate balance is adversely affected. In Australia, copper deficiency is rare as drinking water flows through copper pipes, supplying adequate amounts of copper. Following the birth, zinc levels fall as the placenta is expelled. However, copper levels remain high and consequently the inadequate zinc is unable to stabilise the balance. This is thought to be one factor responsible for post natal baby blues and depression.
A healthy placenta is the richest known source of zinc, containing between 300-600 mg, depending on its size. In the animal kingdom and in many traditional societies, the placenta is eaten, valued for its high nutrient content. Eating the placenta immediately restores postpartum zinc levels.
Furthermore, zinc is known to heal cracked nipples, speed tissue repair and reduce chances of infection following tearing or episiotomy. Zinc also supports milk production and enhances muscle contraction necessary to promote involution, or shrinking, of the uterus during postpartum recovery.
If your baby suffers an injury during birth, it will recover more quickly with less likelihood of infection if you choose to breastfeed and your zinc level is adequate.
It is also known that a baby deficient in zinc is likely to cry more and be less settled. If you are suffering from post natal depression, and statistics show that almost a third of women in the western world experience some degree of depression, then your baby is likely to sense this and may become easily agitated. Thus begins a cycle that may be difficult to break. Research has revealed that nutritional status is linked to maternal instincts and behaviour. In one study using rats, it was found that zinc deficient mother rats neglected their offspring.
Zinc Taste Test
A solution of zinc sulphate heptahydrate is available from health shops, a natural health practitioner or pharmacy. By taking 5 ml of this solution diluted in 250 ml of water and swirling it about in your mouth, you can determine whether or not you are zinc deficient.
If you experience a strong unpleasant taste immediately, your zinc levels are adequate and these can be maintained by taking a zinc supplement. If you experience a furry sensation, this indicates that your levels are marginal and you are advised to take 5 ml of the solution twice daily diluted in 250 ml of water until the taste is strong and immediate. If you cannot taste it at all, you are likely to be zinc deficient and therefore 20 ml of the solution twice daily in 250 ml of water is advised until the taste becomes unpleasant. These dosages are based on the solution containing 590mg/100mL and should be taken separately to foods and other supplements.