Making sure your body has enough zinc may not be as simple as eating foods rich in the mineral.
An undetected parasite infection could be depriving your body of zinc. At the same time, a zinc deficiency enables your parasites to thrive. (1, 2)
The end result of this double-pronged problem is unpleasant physical and mental symptoms for you — like bloating, fatigue, poor immunity, diarrhea, insomnia, and irritability.
Fortunately, you can fight back. Addressing your parasites and your zinc level may be just what you need to restore robust health to your life.
Read on to learn more about why you need zinc, how it’s linked with parasites, and what you can do to maintain healthy zinc levels.
Why You Need Zinc
Zinc is an essential trace mineral. That means you need a relatively small amount. But this little bit is absolutely critical to many major life processes.
Among its many functions, zinc is essential for proper: (3, 4)
- Growth and development
- Immune system functioning
- Nervous system signaling
- Intestinal transport of water and electrolytes
- Sense of taste and smell
- Wound healing
Impressed by how vital this mineral is to your health? There’s more.
Zinc is also necessary for the activation of over 300 enzymes and almost 2,000 transcription factors. The latter are molecules involved with the expression of your genes. In other words, transcription factors help turn your genes on or off. (5)
Lastly, as part of zinc’s role in your immune system function, you need it to fight off pathogens. This includes parasites.
If you have a zinc deficiency, your body’s natural ability to perform all these functions is significantly compromised.
How Much Zinc Do You Need?
How much zinc do you really need — not only to fight off parasites but also enjoy robust health?
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for zinc is: (3)
Women: 8 milligrams (mg) per day
Men: 11 mg per day
The RDAs for zinc differ for very young children and for pregnant or breastfeeding women. But, there’s no change in your requirement as you age. Still, older age is a risk factor for deficiency of zinc. This is probably due to reduced absorption. (6)
You should also know that your body doesn’t have easily-accessed zinc stores. Zinc is found in all your body organs, including your liver and bones. But they don’t give up zinc very readily or quickly when it’s needed elsewhere. So, you need to get zinc in your diet regularly.
According to a U.S. dietary survey, the average daily zinc intake of adults is 12.3 mg per day. This is generally adequate. Still, due to diet, health status, and other factors, you may not meet your individual needs. (7)
Globally, zinc deficiency may be as high as 25%. It’s particularly common in developing countries where good dietary sources of zinc are limited. (7, 8, 9)
Could you be at increased risk for a zinc deficiency? See the next section to find out.
Risk Factors for Zinc Deficiency
A rare genetic disorder called acrodermatitis enteropathica results in chronic zinc deficiency due to poor absorption. Chances are, you don’t have that. (9)
For most people, zinc deficiency results from any one or more of a wide variety of reasons.
Based on human and animal studies, the following factors may increase your risk of coming up short on zinc:
Age 75 or older (10)
Alcoholism or alcoholic liver disease (11)
Chronic kidney disease (12)
Heavy metal toxicity (13)
Diet high in grains and legumes (9)
Intake of artificial food colors (14)
High-stress lifestyle (17, 18)
Strenuous exercise (19)
Medications, such as some antibiotics, proton pump inhibitors, anticonvulsants, antacids, and anti-inflammatories (9, 20, 21)
Candida albicans infection (22)
Severe or persistent diarrhea (9)
Malabsorption syndromes, such as celiac disease and short bowel syndrome (9)
Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (9)
Parasite infection (1)
What exactly is the link between zinc deficiency and parasites? Read on.
Zinc Deficiency = Parasite Playground
When you’re zinc deficient, you are prone to infections. That includes parasitic infections. At the same time, a parasite infection may contribute to zinc deficiency.
Do you realize that even if you don’t think you have symptoms of parasites, they could be living inside you? Unfortunately, it’s true. (23)
Parasitic infections commonly begin in your gut. At first, parasites penetrate your intestinal wall. They can damage your gut lining and may interfere with absorption of nutrients — including zinc. (1)
Then, the critters may work their way deeper into your muscles, tissues, and organs. They may “hide” unnoticed for decades. Meanwhile, they’re actively sucking the life out of you. (24)
Many parasite species have developed ways to avoid specific immune defenses or simply aren’t affected by them at all. They can “run away,” too. (25)
It’s like a catch me if you can game in the parasite playground known as your body. That’s especially true when you’re zinc-deficient.
Here’s a closer look at the relationship between zinc deficiency and parasite infections.
Zinc deficiency weakens your gut defenses
Your gut wall is your first line of defense against parasites you ingest orally, as well as the toxins they produce. This function is the reason why your intestinal wall is part of what’s called your gastrointestinal immune system.
In fact, your gut is partially made up of specialized lymphatic tissue called gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT). It’s estimated that up to 70% of all your body’s immune cells reside there. (26)
Research in animals shows that zinc deficiency can cause GALT to shrivel up. As the lymphatic tissue shrinks, so do the number of immune cells protecting you. Fewer immune cells patrolling for parasites make it easier for the critters to multiply and spread. (2)
Your weakened gut immune response to parasites can lead to immune system breakdowns in other parts of your body as well, like your spleen.
High inflammation lowers your zinc level
If you’re in the throes of a battle against parasites, your body naturally sends out lots of immune cells to combat them. Inflammation results in this process.
But, if too much inflammation occurs, your zinc level may drop even more. This is because zinc is needed to form a protein called interleukin-6 (IL-6). It aids in the inflammatory immune response. (27)
Additionally, IL-6 triggers your liver to hang on to zinc. This is to ensure your body will have a zinc pool to draw on when confronted with a challenge like parasites. But, that means lower circulating zinc levels to support your body’s vital life processes. (28, 29)
It’s a conundrum, but you can solve it by getting the zinc you need and doing a parasite cleanse. Then, you’ll be free to use zinc in all the ways you need to thrive.
10 Ways Zinc Helps You Beat Parasites
If you have enough zinc, you’re better equipped to fight parasites. You’re also better able to deal with the many undesirable side effects of a parasitic infection.
More specifically, zinc helps:
Heal wounds: Parasites can damage your tissues. Zinc supports healing, such as in the areas damaged by parasites. (30)
Reduce inflammation: A byproduct of your immune system’s defense against parasites is inflammation. Zinc decreases inflammation. (31)
Combat leaky gut: Some parasites cause increased intestinal permeability or leaky gut. Zinc promotes the normal functioning of your gut barrier. (32, 33)
Prevent hair loss: You can lose your locks during a parasite cleanse or due to the infection. Zinc helps combat hair loss. (34)
Remove ammonia toxins: Some parasites, including the single-celled critter that causes malaria, secrete high amounts of ammonia. This toxin can damage your organs. Zinc can help reduce your ammonia load. (35, 36)
Restore thyroid function: Parasites such as Blastocystis hominis, a microscopic organism, may disrupt thyroid function. Zinc helps maintain healthy levels of your thyroid hormones. (37, 38, 39)
Enhance mitochondrial function: Zinc is essential for your mitochondria to produce energy. Parasites such as Toxoplasma gondii (which is carried by cats) can cause your energy factories to malfunction. You need energy to fight parasites. (40, 41, 42)
Fend off other infections: Parasites can weaken your immune system defenses against bacteria, fungi, and other pathogens. Zinc guards against weakness in your immune system. (43, 44)
Stabilize your mood: Parasites can disrupt the levels of your neurotransmitters. This can alter your mood. Zinc helps regulate your emotions. (20)
Enhance sleep: Some parasites can disrupt your sleep. Zinc improves sleep. (45, 46, 47)
In other words, with zinc on your side, you can beat parasites at their own game. To help minimize or avoid the side effects of parasite infections, be sure to get enough zinc.
How Do You Know If Your Zinc Is Low?
If you’re thinking about doing a parasite cleanse, make sure you’re functioning with optimal zinc levels beforehand. This will help ensure the best results from the cleanse.
But how do you figure out if your zinc status is good? Start by looking at your diet to see if it regularly includes good sources of zinc. (Food sources are discussed in a bit.)
Additionally, several tests to assess zinc status are available, but they have limitations. This means the results may not be completely accurate. So, keep that in mind when deciding if you want to spend your money on them.
Some of the more common ways to test zinc status, including factors that can skew your results, include:
Blood plasma: This is the most widely used test of zinc status, but several factors can impact the results. Plasma zinc can fluctuate up to 20% depending on the time of day. Also, fasting increases your plasma zinc level, and inflammation lowers it. (48, 49)
Urine: Normally, you lose about 15% of your zinc via urine daily. When your body is low on zinc, it holds on to as much as it can. So, low zinc in your urine — collected over a 24-hour period — might suggest a deficiency. Some diseases, diuretic drugs, and other factors may skew the results. (48, 49)
Hair: Analysis of a hair sample looks at zinc status long term rather than your current status. Results can vary with the lab where it’s sent. A small study found that only one of three labs for hair analysis produced results that matched a blood plasma test. (48, 50)
Zinc taste test: To do this test, you put a zinc sulfate liquid in your mouth. If you quickly get a strong and unpleasant taste, it indicates good zinc status. If you don’t taste anything, it suggests you're low on zinc. This test is somewhat subjective, but it’s inexpensive and easy to do. (51, 52)
Some practitioners use functional medicine blood tests to assess micronutrient status, including zinc. These tests are developed and patented by specific companies. For example, one test assesses zinc status by looking at lymphocyte (white blood cell) function.
Functional medicine practitioners can tell you more about these types of tests. They can assess your zinc status using the method that’s best for your situation. Note that insurance coverage for tests varies, so ask in advance.
How Do You Raise Your Zinc Level?
Though you may have suboptimal zinc levels or even a deficiency, there are many ways you can restore your zinc status.
To prevent or correct a zinc deficiency, you can:
- Reduce factors that cause zinc loss
- Increase your intake of zinc
- Do a parasite cleanse to stop the drain on your zinc level
Here’s more information on how to implement these strategies.
5 ways to reduce zinc loss
To help conserve your body’s zinc, try to follow most or all of these strategies every day.
1. Skip added sugar
You need zinc to help you metabolize sugar, as well as other carbohydrates and macronutrients. But, whole-food carbs like sweet potatoes and broccoli don’t deplete your zinc. That’s because they bring along micronutrients to make up for what your body uses to process them. (53)
Unfortunately, added sugars aren’t the same. They tax your system — especially your pancreas — without contributing micronutrients like zinc. (54)
2. Limit or avoid alcohol
Drinking alcohol can increase your excretion of zinc. That could lead to zinc deficiency if you’re a heavy drinker. To avoid this source of zinc loss, enjoy non-alcoholic (and non-sugary) beverages instead. (11)
Passing up alcohol will also ease the burden on your liver since it has to metabolize this health-robbing substance. (11)
3. Check zinc-medication interactions
Some medications interact with zinc and may contribute to zinc deficiency. In some cases, drugs reduce your absorption of zinc. And certain medications can increase zinc loss via your urine. (3)
So, check with your functional medicine practitioner to see if any of your prescribed drugs could impact zinc. In some cases, taking your zinc several hours before or after medications will prevent interactions.
Examples of drugs that may reduce your zinc levels or interact with zinc in other ways include some: (9, 20, 21)
- Proton pump inhibitors
4. Reduce stress
Zinc deficiency may reduce your body’s ability to handle stress. That’s bad enough. But, here’s the double whammy: Low zinc leads to an increased stress response. (17, 18)
Look at it this way. You’re demanding more from your body as you — sometimes frantically and full-steam ahead — do more in less time. Sometimes your zinc level can’t handle it.
This is where time for self-care comes in. Getting enough sleep and taking time out for some deep-breathing exercises or meditation can help you navigate stress better.
Also, examine your life and see what you can take off your to-do list. This may not only help remedy your zinc deficiency. Your overall health could improve, too.
5. Remove heavy metals
You are exposed to dangerous heavy metals like lead and mercury in many different ways, such as via air pollution and contaminated fish. Even plant-based foods like leafy greens and whole grains can be contaminated with heavy metals, such as cadmium. (55)
Did you know that parasites are sources of heavy metals, too? Parasites in fish may contain high levels of heavy metals. So, when you eat the fish, you’re also consuming the heavy metals from the parasites. (56)
The metals often accumulate in your brain or bones. But, before they do that, heavy metals interfere with essential minerals, including zinc. Heavy metals can block your body's absorption or use of the minerals. (57)
Binders can help remove harmful, inorganic heavy metals. They may help clear away toxins like mercury and cadmium and also help balance zinc and other minerals in your body. (58, 59)
Additionally, if you have heavy metal contamination from parasites, a parasite cleanse will help reduce your heavy metal body burden.
Increasing Your Zinc Intake
You can increase your zinc intake through foods, as well as with dietary support if needed. A wide variety of foods contain zinc.
Here’s a closer look at these options.
Food sources of zinc
Many animal foods, such as grass-fed meat and organic chicken (particularly dark meat), are good sources of zinc. Plus, it’s highly bioavailable from these foods. This means the zinc is easily absorbable by your body and ready to be used.
Legumes, seeds, nuts, and whole grains also contain a fair amount of zinc. But, phytates and other natural compounds in these foods reduce its absorption. Sprouted versions of these foods have less phytate. If plant-based foods are your only source of zinc, you might need more support. (3, 28)
Here’s how much zinc is in a sampling of foods. The percentages are based on the Daily Value (DV) of 11 mg, which is used for nutrition labeling: (60, 61)
4 ounces (oz.) grass-fed beef steak: 4 mg (36% DV)
1 oz. dried pumpkin seeds: 2.2 mg (20% DV)
1 oz. roasted cashews: 1.6 mg (15% DV)
6 oz. plain, low-fat yogurt: 1.5 mg (14% DV)
1 cup cooked oatmeal: 1.4 mg (13% DV)
3 oz. cooked, skinless chicken thigh: 1.3 mg (12% DV)
½ cup cooked garbanzo beans: 1.2 mg (11% DV)
1 large egg: 0.6 mg (5% DV)
Here’s another reason you may want to add pumpkin seeds to your menu: A lab study suggests pumpkin seed extracts may help fight off parasitic worms. Whole pumpkin seeds haven’t been tested for this purpose. (62)
Do you suspect your diet is low in zinc? Or, do you have one or more risk factors for zinc deficiency? If so, it may be wise to take a zinc dietary aid, such as zinc glycinate or zinc citrate. Studies suggest these are well-absorbed forms. Zinc oxide is not absorbed as well. (63, 64)
Just keep in mind that taking more isn’t necessarily better when it comes to zinc.
Regularly getting too much extra zinc may weaken your immune system. Excess zinc may also lead to copper deficiency. This is because high zinc intakes can inhibit your absorption of copper. Like zinc, you need small amounts of copper to be healthy. (8, 65)
The tolerable upper intake level for zinc is 40 mg per day (364% of the Daily Value) from food and support combined. That means you generally shouldn’t exceed this amount. An exception is if you have been diagnosed with zinc deficiency. In that case, your functional medicine practitioner may advise you to take a higher amount until the deficiency is corrected. (7, 66)
So, check the zinc to see what percent of the Daily Value they provide per dose. And remember that zinc from food is contributing to your daily quota.
Lastly, it’s generally best to take zinc support on an empty stomach, if you tolerate that. This will help avoid interference from phytates and other compounds that reduce zinc absorption. (67)
Evict parasites and Candida, too
Parasites got you down? What about Candida albicans overgrowth? Candida can sponge up your zinc, and fighting parasites can deplete your zinc. (68, 69, 70)
So, even if your zinc intake is adequate, you could still be deficient in the mineral if you have chronic infections. A parasite cleanse and a Candida support protocol can help eliminate these nasty infections that zap your zinc.
For a natural parasite cleanse, be sure to:
Open your drainage pathways by supporting your colon, liver, and kidneys
Take herbs to impair and kill the critters
A parasite cleanse to restore your zinc level will send a clear message to those “uninvited guests” that they’re not welcome.
Tip the Scales in Favor of Zinc
Many things can increase your risk of zinc deficiency. Parasites are a significant factor. They compete against your efforts to maintain a healthy level of this essential nutrient.
Moreover, when you’re low on zinc and facing other health challenges, parasites can easily get the upper hand.
To reduce your risk of zinc deficiency, take proactive steps such as reducing your stress and limiting sugar. At the same time, boost your intake of zinc.
Increasing your zinc level will go a long way toward strengthening yourself so that you can better fight off parasite infections.
Most importantly, do a parasite cleanse to rid yourself of the critters that are zapping your zinc and burdening your health.
What actions will you take to support your zinc level?