People With Eczema Have Significantly Lower Levels of Zinc in their Bodies
Zinc plays a vital role in every one of our cells, but particularly in our skin. 5% of the body’s zinc is contained in the skin where it functions to keep our skin cells from becoming inflamed. It also stops the skin cells from producing inflammatory proteins which worsen eczema. Zinc also helps to stop mast cells from erupting. Mast cells are like big pinatas floating around our bodies ready to erupt and cause severe inflammation.
When kids/people with eczema are studied, they are found to have lower levels of zinc in their blood and hair compared to individuals without eczema.
2. The body has no way to store zinc so daily intake is vital
Unlike certain other elements and micronutrients, our body is not able to hold onto zinc for a rainy day. The FDA guidelines for recommended daily intake are pictured below. Although we are focusing on the skin and immune aspects of zinc for this article, daily zinc is vital for hundreds of functions in our body. For pregnant mamas, zinc is needed for the normal growth and development of the baby in utero, and deficiency can cause severe birth defects. For kids, zinc is key for normal growth and a deficiency will lead to significant growth retardation in addition to loss of appetite, impaired immune function, hair loss, diarrhea, delayed sexual maturation, impotence, hypogonadism in males, and eye and skin lesions, weight loss, delayed healing of wounds, taste abnormalities, and mental lethargy. Wow, go zinc
3. a whopping 1/3 of the world population suffers from zinc insufficiency
Yes, zinc insufficiency is much more common than you think. Although rates of insufficiency are highest in sub-saharan Africa, the United States is not spared from the problem. Given that we are unable to store zinc in our bodies, we must take in adequate amounts in our food or in a supplement. The image below shows the top ten foods high in zinc.
I can’t speak for everyone, but when my kids were small, oysters were not high on their list of most desired foods in the old lunchbox. Most americans actually get their zinc from meat and poultry. Vegetarians can get zinc from beans, nuts and grains but there is a catch. Plant sources of zinc contain phytates (or phytic acid) which are anti-oxidant compounds. Phytates bind zinc – and other minerals – and block their absorption. So you must eat significantly more beans to get your share of zinc given this binding issue. Another option is to soak beans or nuts in water for several hours before cooking which helps to remove phytates. Lastly, many processed foods (like breakfast cereals) are fortified with zinc, but since you, my reader, are NOT giving your kids these garbage cereals we can’t rely on that for a zinc source – right?
4. Zinc is vital for normal immune function
The last time you had a cold, you may have been told to take zinc to help speed your recovery. In fact, many throat lozenges and cold medications contain zinc. The reason – zinc plays a key role in the normal functioning of our immune system. We have a number of different types of white blood cells in our body which roam around keeping guard for any invaders or unknown substances. These cells require zinc for normal functioning, and there is a clear association between low zinc status and increased risk of a number of infections. These alterations in immune function might explain why low zinc status has been associated with increased susceptibility to pneumonia and other infections in children in developing countries.
5. Taking a zinc supplement has been shown to improve eczema symptoms
The best studies we have in medicine are called randomized controlled trials (RCT) and they can be powerful for helping us figure out if a treatment actually works. In these trials, random patients are given the actual supplement (zinc in this case) and other random patients are given a fake supplement also known as a placebo. Ideally neither the person taking the supplement nor the researcher should know which patients have received the real thing. Then you watch over time to see who actually improves. In a recent RCT, children with eczema age 2-14 were randomised to receive zinc supplement or placebo. Kids receiving the zinc supplement saw rises in their zinc levels as expected, but also had significant improvements in the extent and severity of their eczema as well as reduced itching compared with the group not receiving supplementation.