Understanding and Treating Zinc Deficiency in Celiac Disease

celiac disease treating zinc deficiency

Source: Keitei

The mineral zinc is classified as an essential nutrient due to the vital functions it performs in our bodies.  It is found in almost every cell of the body with highest concentrations in the liver, pancreas, kidney, bone, and muscle. High concentrations occur in the brain, middle ear, eye, prostate gland, sperm, skin, hair, and nails. This micronutrient is essential for the activity of approximately 100 enzymes. Enzymes promote biochemical reactions in the body.

Zinc supports a healthy immune system. It is needed for wound healing and DNA synthesis. It helps maintain our sense of taste and smell and is involved in energy metabolism, hemoglobin production, carbon dioxide transport, prostaglandin function, synthesis of collagen, protein synthesis, and vitamin A metabolism. Zinc is important for male fertility. It supports normal growth and development during pregnancy, childhood, and adolescence.

According to findings in “Zinc Salts Provide a Novel, Prolonged and Rapid Inhibition of Gastric Acid Secretion,” zinc is essential in preventing excess stomach acid in the first place.  Zinc inhibits excess acid secretion and is required to produce and maintain the protective mucous gel layer at the surface of the stomach lining which provides a barrier to acid.

Zinc is absorbed throughout the small intestine. Protein (especially soy) and glucose increases zinc absorption while copper, iron, calcium and folic acid decrease zinc absorption.

Zinc Deficiency Symptoms

Most Americans are deficient in zinc.  While many of us consume less than 10 mg per day, we actually need between 12 and 15mg.  When malabsorption issues from celiac disease damage are added to a diet already too low in zinc, we can see how zinc deficiencies are common in celiac disease.

Mild to moderate depletion make us feel run down because deficiency results in low energy and fatigue. Other symptoms include the following:

  • nervousness
  • depression
  • anorexia
  • impaired taste and smell
  • acid reflux
  • skin rashes and disorders including acne, eczema, and psoriasis
  • photophobia
  • white spots in fingernails
  • thinning hair/ baldness, alopecia areata
  • slow wound healing
  • frequent infection
  • male infertility
  • In children and youths, anemia, hypogonadism, and short stature.


Severe deficiency results in immune disorders including shrinkage of the thymus gland, deficient thymic hormone, low white blood cell count, and worsening of diarrhea, if present.

Zinc-deficiency in pregnancy includes: increased maternal deaths, abnormal taste sensations, abnormally short or long pregnancies, inefficient labor, atonic bleeding (uterus does not stay contracted), increased risks to the fetus including malformations, growth retardation, prematurity, and perinatal death (period between the 28th week of pregnancy and 28 weeks after delivery).

Recommended Dietary Allowances for Zinc

Children 1 to 10 years require 10 mg of zinc each day. Boys and men need 15 mg. Girls and women need 12 mg. Pregnant women need 15 mg. Because of new findings, these amounts are expected to be higher when the next Recommended Daily Allowances are published.

Getting Your Daily Intake

  • Make foods rich in zinc a part of your diet, especially if you notice white spots in your fingernails, are under a lot of stress, take high doses of calcium or exercise heavily. Eat food with zinc to restore your energy, mental outlook and appetite.
  • The highest animal source of zinc is the oyster. There are 21mg in ½ cup!
  • Rich meat sources include canned salmon, beef, liver, turkey neck, shellfish, poultry, and fish. Liver has 4.6mg in 3 oz. and dark turkey meat has 3.8mg in 3 oz. and beef has 2.3 mg in 3oz.
  • Good plant sources are rice bran, pecans, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, soy products, dry peas and beans, and brown rice.
  • Red wine enhances zinc zbsorption.


Form in Dietary Supplements

Dietary supplements of zinc are usually needed to correct a deficiency. Most celiacs who are zinc deficient at diagnosis will always be at risk for depletion during times of stress or illness. It is a good idea to keep zinc on hand to combat low levels. These white tablets should be taken alone with food to improve absorption. Zinc supplements should not be taken together with the typical balanced vitamin/mineral supplement because zinc interferes with copper absorption while iron, calcium and folic acid interfere with zinc absorption.

Zinc Toxicity

Toxicity from supplements may develop at more than 100 mg a day. Symptoms include gastrointestinal irritation and vomiting.


About the author

Cleo Libonati, RN, BSN is CEO and co-Founder of Gluten Free Works, Inc. and Glutenfreeworks.com. She is the author and publisher of the highly recommended celiac disease reference guide, Recognizing Celiac Disease.