Zinc is an essential nutrient for health and wellbeing, but did you know it can also affect body weight? Learn the key symptoms of a zinc deficiency, zinc’s role in fat-burning and muscle development, and how to ensure you’re getting enough of it.

It’s well-known that zinc – the second most abundant trace mineral in your body – is vital for everyday health. Zinc plays a key role in immune functioning, protein synthesis, wound healing, DNA synthesis, cell division, and plenty more besides. Many people already take zinc supplements to prevent or treat the common cold, and oftentimes zinc is cited as a key player in the quest for healthy skin and hair.

What fewer people know, is that zinc can also have a big impact on your body weight. So much so, that a zinc deficiency can put the brakes on even the best-intentioned fat loss plan.

Zinc and weight management – what’s the link?

While there are various reasons why zinc influences body weight, the primary one is this: zinc is essential for proper thyroid functioning. As one doctor explains, ‘Deficiency of zinc in the body may result in decreased levels of secretion of thyroid hormones, which affects the normal metabolism of the body and resting metabolic rate.’

In simple terms, not enough zinc can impair thyroid function, resulting in a slower metabolic rate, which can make it harder to burn fat. To put that into perspective, a related case study found that one woman’s resting metabolic rate dropped by 527 calories a day due to a zinc deficiency. That’s 3,689 calories a week, or more than one pound of pure body fat energy-wise.

Other ways zinc can affect body weight and appearance

Besides influencing metabolism, zinc depletion in males reduces testosterone – an essential hormone for fat burning and the growth and maintenance of muscle. What’s more, low zinc levels can decrease muscular strength, endurance and performance.

Athletes are at increased risk of hypozincemia, or low bodily zinc levels, due to the amount of zinc lost through sweat. Combine the two factors, and low zinc levels are a recipe for disaster whether you’re trying to slim down or get ripped.

The problem: one in ten Americans consumes less than half of the recommended amount of zinc

Whether you’re an athlete or not, the human body doesn’t store excess zinc, which means it needs to be consumed regularly as part of the diet. An estimated 10% of Americans consume less than half of the recommended daily intake, and several factors increase the risk of a zinc deficiency, including:

Junk food
Many of us don’t consume enough foods that are rich in zinc – like oysters, wheat germ, beef, dark poultry meat, whole grains and liver – and instead get too many of our calories from non-nutritious foods.

Agricultural practices
Research shows the content of vitamins and minerals in food in America has declined over time, likely due to agricultural practices. So even if we’re trying to eat the right foods, they might not contain optimal zinc levels.

Gastrointestinal diseases
Certain conditions – such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, short bowel syndrome, celiac disease, and chronic diarrhea – can impair the body’s ability to absorb and retain dietary zinc. It’s important to rule these out when diagnosing a zinc deficiency.

As a useful HealthLine article explains, ‘Pregnant women need more zinc than usual because the zinc in their body is needed to help the developing baby.’ Maternal zinc deficiency may compromise infant development, so it’s a real concern for expectant mothers.

Alcohol intake
Research shows that alcohol reduces your body’s ability to absorb zinc, and alcoholism is closely linked to zinc deficiency.

Zinc deficiency: what are the common symptoms?

The first way to identify a possible zinc deficiency is through common symptoms, and these vary from experiencing brittle or dry hair, skin and nails, to experiencing reduced or altered vision and taste.

Low libido in men is another common symptom of low zinc levels, as is a generally weakened immune system and susceptibility to colds and viruses. Of course, struggling to lose weight or build muscle effectively could be another indicator that your zinc levels could be off course.

If you suspect a zinc deficiency, you’ll need to rule out any related complications – like the gastrointestinal diseases mentioned above – then run some tests to confirm it. After all, your symptoms could be a sign of something else, and treating a deficiency without confirming it through testing could mean you overdose on a nutrient your body doesn’t actually need…