Most people don’t realize how important it is to have adequate zinc in their diet. Zinc is an essential mineral that can only be obtained by eating certain foods or by taking zinc supplements. If you fail to maintain adequate zinc levels, you may become susceptible to several problems, including mental health issues. Specifically, experts have found that there is a strong correlation between zinc levels in the body and levels of depression (Swardfager, et al., 2013).
Why is Zinc Important?
Zinc performs all sorts of important functions in the human body. It helps with cell growth and metabolism. It is also useful in the regulation of the endocrine system. Zinc has a direct impact on the functioning of the thyroid which aids in metabolism. Low zinc levels can cause serious disruptions in the metabolic process.
Low zinc can also cause issues with your immune system. Since zinc plays a critical role in the regulation of cellular immune systems, a deficiency can leave you susceptible to infection.
Finally, the brain and nervous system is impacted in several ways. For example, since zinc is associated with neurotransmitter concentration at the hypothalamic levels, it can affect a person’s appetite and has been linked to anorexia.
Several studies have found that people who do not have stable zinc levels in their body are more prone to suffer from depression and depressive symptoms (Swardfager, et al, 2013).
In a study conducted by Nakamura and his team in 2019, they found that Zinc, along with copper and manganese, play a vital role in mental health. Specifically, the study found that subjects with depression were likely to have much lower levels of those three minerals (Nakamura, et al., 2019).
What Are Some of the Symptoms of Low Zinc Levels?
There are some symptoms that are associated with low zinc intake (Kubala, 2018). If you think you may have any of these, it’s a good idea to start taking a zinc supplement, the best form of which is zinc picolinate:
- Thinning hair
- Lower appetite
- Depressed mood
- Slow wound healing
- Dry skin
If you don’t eat foods that are rich in zinc, you should probably consider taking a daily supplement (Kubala, 2018).
What Foods Can Help Increase Your Zinc Intake?
Certain foods contain zinc and can help replenish your body when levels get too low. One of the reasons vegetarians and vegans have issues with their zinc levels is because they do not eat animal products, which , that are high in zinc (Kubala, 2018).
Some of the high zinc foods you should incorporate into your diet include:
- Fish and shellfish
- Nuts and legumes
- Certain vegetables such as peas, spinach and lima beans
If you don’t regularly eat these foods or don’t eat enough of them, you should take a supplement.
Certain Groups are at a Higher Risk of Low Zinc Levels
Since diet is the main factor when it comes to zinc levels, certain groups are at a higher risk of zinc deficiency. These are groups who naturally do not eat enough foods rich in zinc. Some of these groups include:
- Vegetarians and vegans
- Pregnant women and women who are breastfeeding
- People with sickle cell anaemia
- Those with kidney disease
While it’s certainly possible that members of these groups may have lower zinc levels, there’s no guarantee that this is the case. The only way to know for sure is to see a doctor and have them run blood tests. However, you may be able to solve the problem with a zinc supplement.
Zinc Supplements Help with Pyroluria
Pyroluria is a condition caused by elevated levels in pyrroles. The technical term for this condition is hydroxyhemepyrroline-2-HPL. People with this disorder are more likely to develop psychiatric problems such as schizophrenia, anxiety and depression (Warren, 2021). One of the best treatments for this issue is taking zinc and vitamin B6 supplements.
How Does Zinc Affect People with Depression?
Surprisingly, many psychiatric medications can impact a person’s zinc level. If someone is already being treated for depression and their zinc levels decline, their depression could become more severe (Petrilli, et al., 2017). Not surprisingly, many doctors use zinc as a treatment for depression (Petrilli, et al., 2017).
Studies show that 19-24% of all people suffering from major depression fail to respond to antidepressants alone. Therefore, many doctors prescribe zinc supplements to help decrease depressive symptoms (Baltaci, 2013).
Zinc Deficiencies Can Cause Other Mental Health Disorders
Depression isn’t the only mental health disorder associated with zinc deficiencies (Deans, 2013). Research has shown that reduced zinc levels can also lead to disorders such as:
- Violent tendencies
A zinc supplement can help reduce the chance of these issues occurring.
What Kind of Evidence is There to Show that Zinc Impacts Depression Levels?
Over the years, researchers have investigated the role zinc can play when it comes to mental health. What they have found time and time again is that there is a high correlation between zinc levels and severity of depression (Swardfager, et al.., 2013).
In a review of 17 studies, Swardfager (2013) found that people with depression had much lower zinc levels than those who were not depressed. They also found that zinc deficiencies can increase the severity of depression (Swardfager, et al., 2013).
Another study conducted in 2013 showed that up to 50% of people diagnosed with depression had nutrient deficiencies. According to this study, zinc activates hippocampal neurogenesis by regulating brain-derived neurotrophic factor (Greenblatt, 2016). Without zinc, the brain can’t generate new neurons the way it’s supposed to.
What Can You Do to Improve Your Zinc Levels?
If you are already suffering from depression, make sure you talk to your doctor, a nutritionist or a naturopath before making any changes to your diet or regimen. You also shouldn’t take any supplements if you’re already being treated for depression without talking to your doctor.
The best form of Zinc I have found, is NOW Zinc Picolinate 50mg, take 1 capsule per day.
Baltaci, A., Mogulko, R. and Baltaci, S. (2019). The Role of Zinc in the Endocrine System. Pakistani Journal of Pharm Sci, 32(1), 231-239. Retrieved from https://uam-web2.uamont.edu/facultyweb/sims2/Zinc%20and%20Endocrine%20System.pdf
Deans, E. (2013). Zinc: An Antidepressant. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/evolutionary-psychiatry/201309/zinc-antidepressant
Greenblatt, J. (2016). Evidence-Based Research in the Role of Zinc and Magnesium Deficincies in Depression. Psychiatric Times, 33(12). Retrieved at https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/view/evidence-based-research-role-zinc-and-magnesium-deficiencies-depression.
Kubala, J. (2018, November 14). Zinc: Benefits, Deficiency, Food Sources and Side Effects. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/zinc#deficiency
Nakamura, M., Miura, A., Nagahata, T, and et al. (2019). Low Zinc, Copper and Manganese Intake is Associated with Depression and Anxiety Symptoms in the Japanese Working Population: Findings from the Eating Habits and Well-Being Study. Nutrients, 11(847), 1-10. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30991676/.
Petrilli, M. A., Kranz, T. M., & Kleinhaus, K. (2017). The Emerging Role for Zinc in Depression and Psychosis. Retrieved from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphar.2017.00414/full
Ranjbar, E. (2013). Effects of Zinc Supplementation in Patients with Major Depression: a Randomized Clinical Trial. Iranian Journal of Psychiatry, 8(2), 73-79. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3796297/?report=reader
Swardfager, W., et al. (2013). Zinc in Depression: a Meta-Analysis. Biol Psychiatry, 74, 872-878. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23806573/