What are those white spots on your nails?
As a naturopath I am often asked by people what the white spots on their nails are caused by. Most people think this is calcium deficiency. The clever answer is that it is called Leukonychia and you can see a fine example in the picture here. The main cause, other than physical injury like shutting your finger in something, is zinc deficiency. This is a common deficiency as zinc is extensively used in the body and is short in NZ soils.
So what is zinc?
As you can guess being in the soil it is a mineral. It is found abundantly in the body, mainly in the muscles and bones. However it is also found in the teeth, hair, skin, nails, liver, prostate, testes, sperm and in our white blood cells. It is used in over 100 important activities in our body, which makes it one of our key nutrients.
What is it used for?
Zinc is required for building and repair in the body. It is important for healthy hair, nails and skin growth. Hence when there is lack of zinc there is poor wound healing, mouth ulcers and spots on the nails. It is also important for bone formation and is used to make the hormone called calcitonin that breaks bone down.
It is very important for the immune system, so people who are deficient often seem to catch one thing after another. Other than preventative health there are studies that show taking zinc can reduce the duration and severity of ills and chills by 50%. Zinc is an antiviral agent, which is released into the saliva providing a first line of defence against any ingested bugs. It is depleted rapidly in viral infections as the body uses it quickly to inhibit virus replication, as well as for many other immune defense functions.
Zinc is also needed for reproductive health as it is required for male and female hormones. It is very important for male sexual, reproductive and prostate health. Other hormones which need zinc are growth hormones and insulin, hence the link to acne from a blood sugar imbalance. Finally zinc is used in the production of thyroid hormones, so lack of it could affect our metabolism.
Signs of Zinc Deficiency
There are many signs of zinc deficiency, but the main ones (other than white spots on fingernails) are stretch marks, hair loss, acne, diarrhoea, poor wound healing, mouth ulcers, low immunity, dandruff and many skin conditions. Those who are lacking zinc may also have poor taste, poor smell and experience loss of appetite. So think of zinc with your kids if they don’t seem interested in eating, especially if they keep getting sick.
Who might be susceptible to zinc deficiency?
- Those who sweat a lot or do intense exercise
- People taking medications – for example the oral contraceptive, antacids, antibiotics
- Digestive disorders that result in lack of absorption such as persistent diarrhoea and inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
- Those with high intakes of caffeine and alcohol
- Stressed individuals
- Diabetics and those with liver or kidney disease
- Women who are pregnant and postnatal (It can also help mood along with B6).
- Teenagers as they are growing and developing sex hormones – An ideal candidate for zinc would be boys with acne
- Children as they are growing too
- Vegans or vegetarians due to the high consumption of foods such as wholegrains, rice, corn and legumes. These are high in phytates that can block zinc absorption.
Are there any vitamins or minerals that can affect zinc absorption?
Zinc competes for absorption with iron, copper and calcium.
Foods that contain zinc
Zinc is naturally present in food such as meat, poultry, dairy products, eggs, fish, beans, whole grains and nuts. It is very high in oysters, which explains the aphrodisiac link. Another good source is pumpkin and sunflower seeds which are great toasted and are cheap and tasty to throw on your salads. For vegetarians kelp and spirulina would be great sources.
Are you Zinc deficient?
There are tests for zinc deficiency. You can measure levels by a blood test through your GP or hair tests via a natural health practitioner. There is also a simple zinc oral taste test that is available for free at many pharmacies or health stores.
Recommended daily intake according to the NZ Ministry of Health
|7 months – 3 years||3mg|
|4 -8 years||4mg|
|9 – 13 years||6mg|
|14 – 18 years (girls)||7mg|
|14 – 18 years (boys)||13mg|
By Jane Cronin, ND, Dip Med Herb
Clinicians Zinc Oral Drops provide 5mg of Zinc (as Zinc Sulfate) per 5 drops. Liquid form provides greater absorption and assimilation. They are available for secure order from our online shop.
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What did you think caused white spots on nails?