Zinc is a nutrient that we need to stay healthy. Zinc is found in cells throughout the body. It helps the immune system fight off invading bacteria and viruses. The body also needs zinc to make proteins and DNA. During pregnancy, infancy, and childhood the body needs zinc to grow and develop properly. Zinc also helps wounds to heal and is important for proper senses of taste and smell. Zinc blood tests are primarily ordered to help detect iron deficiency in children and to detect and monitor chronic exposure to lead in adults, as zinc is involved in the chemical process by which our body carries iron via red blood cells. Signs and symptoms of lead poisoning include:
-High blood pressure
-Numbness / tingling in the hands and feet
-Memory loss, mood disorders
For this reason, it is also common to assess zinc levels when iron deficiency is suspected, symptoms include:
-Chronic fatigue, tiredness
-Pica (cravings for specific substances like chalk, dirt, or clay)
-A burning sensation on the tongue or a smooth tongue
-Sores at the corners of the mouth
-Spoon-shaped fingernails and toenails
Most people in the United States get enough zinc from the foods they eat. However, certain groups of people are more likely than others to have trouble getting enough zinc:
-People with malabsorption disorders (e.g., Crohn’s disease)
-Vegetarians (meat is a good source of zinc)
Although zinc deficiency is rare in North America, it can cause:
-Slow growth in infants and children
-Delayed sexual development in adolescents
-Problems with wound healing
-Decreased ability to taste food
The main reasons for zinc levels to increase are iron deficiency and lead poisoning. In addition, zinc may be elevated in inflammatory conditions, infections, and in people with anemia of chronic disease, but zinc tests are not generally used to monitor or diagnose these conditions.
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