A: Symptoms of low zinc include an altered sense of taste, leading to cravings of saltier, sweeter foods, and, strangely, to fingernail ridging. Even though symptoms may be present, because they are so diverse and are associated with other health conditions, it’s often hard to make the link to zinc deficiency without a test.
It is impossible to assess zinc status by doing a basic blood test because the concentration of zinc in blood serum represents less than 1 percent of the total metabolic pool of zinc. Instead, get a red blood cell test for zinc. This will provide a more accurate idea of your level. Strength and power athletes train most efficiently at red blood cell zinc levels of 1,400 to 1,500 ug/dL.
A zinc taste test is an effective way to identify a basic zinc deficiency. Place a special zinc sulfate product in your mouth. If it tastes just like water, you are zinc deficient. If it tastes only slightly metallic, you are still zinc deficient. If it tastes disgusting and very metallic, your levels are probably adequate.
To increase zinc intake through diet, eat animal foods such as organic grass-fed meats, eggs and seafood. Because we excrete a large amount of zinc in urine and sweat, it’s estimated that only 25 to 30 percent of the zinc we get from diet is absorbed and usable by the body. The rest is eliminated.
Regarding supplementation, zinc can be toxic, and studies show you do not need to chronically take zinc. Rather, you need to achieve an adequate level of it; then get a red blood cell zinc test or monitor status with a taste test, and adjust your intake accordingly.
Be aware that vegetarians are at extreme risk of zinc deficiency because the zinc in plants contains phytic acid, which interferes with zinc in the body. Phytic acid is a chelator of zinc, meaning that it binds to zinc and helps to eliminate it from the body; phytic acid is found in nuts, seeds and grains. It’s commonly accepted that vegetarians need to take in 50 percent more zinc than omnivores do to bring their supply up to adequate levels.
Editor’s note: Charles Poliquin is recognized as one of the world’s most suc-cessful strength coaches, having coached Olympic med-alists in 12 different sports, including the U.S. women’s track-and-field team for the 2000 Olympics. He’s spent years researching European journals (he’s fluent in English, French and German) and speaking with other coaches and scientists in his quest to optimize training methods. For more on his books, seminars and methods, visit www.CharlesPoliquin.com. IM