Getting enough zinc? Check your fingernails

Q: How much zinc should I take if I have white spots on my nails? Some spots are quite noticeable.

GR: Patients are usually surprised to learn that zinc deficiency is sometimes literally written on their bodies in what might seem like an unlikely place: the fingernails.

Any little white spots you may see there are most often "zinc deficiency spots." Zinc gets "used up" the most when a large mass of cells is rapidly growing and dividing, which happens to the greatest extent during puberty, so teenagers are particularly at risk for zinc deficiency and insufficiency.

But unlike many of the other aspects of puberty, this isn't one that you can simply thankyour lucky stars to be finished with. Zinc deficiency can happen at any age!

And it's important to keep in mind that zinc deficiency or insufficiency more often occurs without the telltale "zinc spots."

The best food sources of zinc by far are oysters. I don't know about you, but I just haven't been able to develop a taste for them, so I usually rely on herring and other seafood, eggs, liver (yes, organic only), and beef, all of which are all good sources of zinc.

The best vegetable sources of zinc include sunflower seeds, nuts, mushrooms, and whole grains.

It's important to note, however, that in the early 1960s, the USDA published a map showing that 31 states had insufficient levels of zinc in their agricultural soils for optimal crop growth -- and the situation has only worsened in the 40 years or so since!

You don't need me to tell you that if there isn't enough zinc in the soil for optimal crop growth, then there certainly won't be enough zinc in those crops to ensure optimal health in the people eating them.

Regardless of how many of the zinc-rich foods you decide to incorporate
into your diet, I always recommend my patients take 25 to 30 milligrams of zinc (picolinate or citrate) in supplement form, two to three times each day.

Since prolonged use of zinc can lead to a deficiency or insufficiency in copper (and vice versa), it's best to also take 2 milligrams of copper (from sebacate).

Many good multi-vitamin/mineral combinations already contain these amounts, so there may be no need to buy additional supplements. But it's a good idea to check the quantities on the label of your multi to be sure.

A word of caution: It is possible to "overdo" it when it comes to zinc. Excessive quantities of it, in fact, can increase a man's risk of prostate cancer.

Check with your doc first before starting any new supplements of zinc (or anything else).

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