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Zinc for Memory, Sense of Smell and Wellbeing

When meeting with a new patient, one of the first things I observe is the appearance of their fingernails. If white dots or lines are present, this can potentially indicate an underlying zinc deficiency. Often, patients presenting with more than a few white lines or dots on their fingernails will also suffer from skin symptoms such as rough spots or a proliferation of fine bumps on the back of the upper arms (triceps). It is believed that these symptoms are linked with low zinc levels, which alter the body’s ability to properly utilize health-promoting omega-3 (found in fish oil and seed oils) from a patient’s diet.

Zinc is an essential mineral, involved in the activity at least 200 enzymes that are vital to the healthy function of your body. Low zinc has been associated with an increased risk of illness, decline in memory function and skin health, and multiple other manifestations. When zinc levels remain deficient for a prolonged period, the sense of smell can be affected. The loss of olfaction, or the ability to smell, has been suspected to potentially indicate the risk of an impending decline in memory function. Of course, there are other possible causes for a loss of smell: sinus infections, impacted sinuses or deviated tissues within the nasal passages.

Other symptoms of low zinc can include diarrhea, skin rashes, acne, allergies, hair thinning and prostate health challenges. Recently I had a patient who suffered ongoing diarrhea. It happened that he caught a cold, so his friend gave him zinc to help with his cold symptoms, and his diarrhea inadvertently resolved itself. He stopped taking the zinc once his cold symptoms went away, and then his diarrhea returned. After he resumed his regimen of zinc, his diarrhea once again disappeared.

I have also recommended zinc for acne, as this important mineral helps support skin health and hormone metabolism that can often trigger teenage acne, which sometimes continues into adulthood. Likewise, zinc is needed to help control the metabolism of testosterone in males and females, to help protect against excess DHT (a form of testosterone) associated with hair loss.

Allergies such as hay fever, which can arise from an excess release of histamine, have also been linked in part to potentially lower than optimal levels of zinc. Furthermore, lowered zinc levels have been correlated with a condition called leaky gut syndrome that can contribute to multiple health concerns. The primary functions of the intestinal tract are two-fold: first, it absorbs nutrients to fuel and sustain the body and secondly, it prevents pathogens (bad bacteria, parasites, toxins, allergens) from entering the circulatory system (blood stream). When leaky gut syndrome interferes with these vital functions, illness and discomfort can ensue.

There is evidence that a loss of smell may also indicate declining overall health and longevity, which can be accelerated by smoking and alcohol abuse. So, it’s well worth getting your zinc levels checked if you experience a decreased sense of smell, or notice white dots or lines on your fingernails. Remember, “it is better to test than guess.”

Written by Dr. Chris D. Meletis

Nutrients. 2014 Nov 14;6(11):5117-41.
The Guardian October 1, 2014

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