Many people neglect to add the trace element zinc to their daily diets, and that’s too bad, because it really helps stimulate essential metabolic functions of most living organisms, according to new research by the Chair of Animal Nutrition at the Technical University of Munich (TUM).
Researchers there have discovered that even the most minimal zinc deficiency will hamper digestion, though without any stereotypical signs and symptoms like tiredness and problems with skin. That said, even a short duration without zinc in your diet ought to be avoided at all costs.
According to a press release from the university, scientists found that even a minuscule zinc deficiency in an animal’s diet will hamper pancreatic digestive activity and thus result in marked overall impairment of digestion, even very soon after zinc deficiency begins.
The study, led by Daniel Brugger of the Chair of Animal Nutrition at TUM, was just recently published in the British Journal of Nutrition. The press release noted further:
Scientist Brugger charted a new path since all previous studies had compared the functions of animals with clinical zinc deficiency to those of animals that had adequate amounts of this trace element in their bodies.
‘Undigested food inside the gastrointestinal tract due to zinc deficiency results in feeling less hungry’
“It is important to note that, in nature, clinical zinc deficiency does not really occur, neither in animals nor in humans,” Brugger, the study’s lead author, said.
As such, Brugger conducted his research on animals who were artificially deprived of zinc for the purposes of the study. Since zinc only exists in tiny amounts in any organism, the only way in which it can be consumed and distributed throughout the body is via nutrition. For example, in piglets, a clinical or discernible zinc deficiency can, “under feeding conditions applied in practice,” the press release said, only be achieved after around 10 days, said Brugger. That’s why he ended his series of tests earlier, after only eight days.
Early stages of zinc depletion are not actually visible. However, the depletion – even if the changes are only minute – is measureable in the liver and via blood samples. For the purposes of Brugger’s study, piglets that were recently weaned from their mothers were provided a diet that contained various amounts of zinc, with the purpose of allowing them to develop early stage zinc deficit.
Researchers found that as zinc concentrations waned, the body tried to absorb it more efficiently, but in doing so reduced pancreatic zinc excretion. When clinical zinc deficits reduced the test animals’ appetites “various hypotheses were derived, for example, that zinc deficiency had a direct impact on the vagus nerve. The real reason, however, may be much simpler: the accumulation of undigested food inside the gastrointestinal tract due to zinc deficiency results in feeling less hungry,” Brugger observed.
Reduced immune response in humans too
The press release noted further:
The pancreas is the control center for food digestion and energy homeostasis in the body. It pumps zinc into the gastrointestinal tract in order to maintain a consistent zinc level. Conversely, if an organism is depleted of zinc, it reduces its pancreatic zinc excretion to a minimum. The starting point for Daniel Brugger’s study was the hypothesis that this mechanism may be related to digestion.
In the first few weeks after young animals are weaned, feed digestion is of major importance for developing livestock, and it is a factor that cannot be underestimated or ignored by farmers.
“We proved that there is a direct correlation between the amount of digestive enzymes inside the pancreas and zinc levels in the organism as a whole”, explained Brugger. “Even short intervals of zinc deficiency in the diet should therefore be avoided. Given the similarities between a pig’s organism and the human organism, we may draw the following conclusion when applying our results to the human body: an egg or two more once in a while can do no harm.”
Brugger suggested that vegans, vegetarians and older people take special care to monitor their intake of this vital trace element. In addition to other conditions, a deficit of zinc in humans has been blamed for producing higher levels of inflammation and a reduced immune response.