According to Ananda S. Prasad, MD, PhD, at Wayne State University, the Western world's shift from consumption of meat proteins to cereal proteins containing high levels of fibers known as phytates may precipitate a general increase in zinc deficiency. Other known causes of zinc deficiency in man include surgery, malabsorption syndrome, being an athlete, frequent ejaculation (most often by homosexuals), excessive alcohol intake, fasting, institutional diets, illegal drug use, chronic diseases (including sickle cell anemia, Wilson's disease, renal and liver diseases), lack of zinc in food crops grown in zinc depleted soils, a poor diet, dependance on processed foods, vegetarianism, and long term exposure to environmental toxins.
DANGERS OF ZINC DEFICIENCY: Continued increase in zinc deficiency may be dangerous to humanity because dietary zinc deficiency -- dependent upon severity and other factors -- can result in: (a) primary T-cell lymphocyte immune system dysfunction (failure to terminate incipient malignancies, viral and fungal infections), (b) inability to protect cell membranes from viruses, toxins, complement, and venoms, (c) poor appetite (particularly in the young and aged), (d) mental lethargy, (e) abnormal neurosensory changes, (f) chronic diarrhea, (g) growth failure (dwarfism), (h) vision problems, (i) fertility problems (including hypogonads, failure of sexual maturity, benign prostatitis in men, and menstrual cramping and bloating in women), (j) essential hypertension, (k) angina pectoris, (l) ischemia of effort, (m) delayed wound healing, (n) free radical damage, (o) frequent opportunistic infections, (p) scleroderma, (q) systemic scleroderma (including lethal pulmonary hypertension), (r) respiratory and skin allergies, (s) asthma, (t) premature aging, (u) loss of hair color, (v) anemia, (w) striae (stretch marks), (x) joint pain, (y) loss of taste, and (z) birth defects. In chronic zinc deficiency, smoking tobacco can result in absent zinc being replaced with toxic cadmium from cigarette smoke eventually resulting in lung disease. Lead, cadmium, and mercury toxicity can be treated by displacing those elements by therapeutic doses of dietatry zinc. It is probable that each of these disorders will respond to, be prevented by, or be cured by daily therapeutic doses of zinc (ten times the U.S. RDA 15 mg for zinc).
ZINC OR GOLD, WHICH IS MOST VALUABLE? Of potentially extreme importance to humanity, in test animals zinc deficiency induced a chronic immunosuppression that persisted through the third generation of their offspring. See "Gestational zinc deprivation in mice: persistence of immunodeficiency for three generations", Science. 1982, volume 218 pages 469-471. If this is also the case for zinc deprived humans, humanity faces a bleak future filled with disease. Consequently, zinc may be far more valuable to humanity than the most precious of metals -- gold.
SIGNS OF ZINC DEFICIENCY: One easily recognized sign of zinc deficiency is white spots, bands, and lines on finger nails. An occasional white spot is usually evidence that the immune system overcame a bacterial or some other systemic infection, and is a positive, not negative sign. Some women will have multiple parallel white bands or lines on their fingernails marking menstrual cycles in marginal zinc deficiency. According to some biomedical researchers, human zinc deficiency may be correctable only by a therapeutic intake of 100 to 150 mg zinc per day taken orally for a few months. Significantly exceeding 150 mg per day to correct serum zinc deficiency is rarely warranted, and often causes nausea and vomiting, and may have other deleterious effects on health, primarily through depletion of serum copper. Some researchers suggest adding trace amounts of copper and vitamin B-6 with supplemental therapeutic doses of zinc to help reestablish proper zinc serum levels.
PRIMARY ROLE OF ZINC IONS: Most serum Zn2+ ions are used by the body to stabilize cell membranes and close pores in cell membranes. In vitro, Charles A. Pasternak, PhD, MD (Hon), of St. George's Medical Hospital, University of London, has found that increasing Zn2+ ion concentrations to be a novel and newly recognized form of host defense, because they strengthen cell membranes and protect them from damage from many cytotoxins, including viruses, venoms, and complement. His writings, and similar writings of others, on these general protective effects of Zn2+ ions can be found in references 1, 11, 63-67, 70, 79, and 104-106 in Chapter 2. In vitro Effects of Zn2+ Ions, from Handbook for Curing the Common Cold: The Zinc Lozenge Story.
Similarly, we have some evidence that oral intake of extremely large doses of ionizable zinc compounds can prevent injury and possibly death from potentially lethal cytolytic agents. FOR EXAMPLE: Three grams of zinc (from zinc gluconate) taken in four 750-mg doses per day with meals for a week has been successfully used to prevent severe tissue necrosis and possible death from a brown recluse spider bite in the navel of a 100-pound female adult. This treatment produced no observable side effects (neither nausea nor vomiting), rapidly eliminated systemic bloating and generalized pain, and resulted in rapid wound healing without scarring. However, if such extreme dosage is given in health, zinc toxicity must always be expected.
Excessive consumption of zinc over a long period can interfere with copper absorption and has reversible side effects, the most noticeable being anemia and neutropenia. Like overdoses of any nutrient, stopping or reducing dietary zinc supplementation has been reported to be corrective. On the other hand, many people drink water carried by copper plumbing, and consequently they may be carrying a burden of excess -- and potentially toxic -- copper which may be beneficially adjusted by supplemental zinc.
ANTIOXIDANT EFFECTS: Zn2+ ions are nature's strongest antioxidants, far more so than vitamins C and E, and much safer than selenium. Generally, therapeutic doses of zinc in highly ionic forms to treat diseases, wounds, burns, and venomous bites are a fresh, and promising area demanding further research.
FOR THE RECORD: Increasing dietary zinc or vitamin C does not decrease incidents of colds or their severity (except in cases of deficiency induced immunosuppression) because susceptibility to colds is primarily determined by other factors including the strength of the mouth-nose biologically closed electric circuit (measured in ohms), status of nasal cell membrane porosity, nasal mucosa viral antibody titers, and other well known immunologic factors. It is easy to "prove" that increased vitamin C or zinc intake shortens colds by a day or two in nutrient deficient individuals compared with nutrient deficient individuals given placebo.