Zinc supplements can help treat depression, ADHD, schizophrenia and other mental health problems

Oysters are high in zinc Since the 1920s zinc has been known to play a role in mental health. Decades of research has found a link between taking zinc supplements and an improvement in the symptoms of schizophrenia, autism, ADHD and other mental health problems.

Along with iron, zinc is the most common trace mineral in the body. Zinc is found in every one of our cells, and is needed for about 100 enzyme reactions. It’s vital for a healthy mind, immune system, reproductive system and more.

The World Health Organization says it is estimated that zinc deficiency affects about one-third of the world’s population. Although severe zinc deficiency is rare, mild-to-moderate zinc deficiency is quite common throughout the world. A lack of zinc can cause many health problems, including depression, impotence, low fertility and skin problems such as acne.

Are you getting enough zinc for good mental and physical health?

What is zinc used for in the body?
What evidence is there that zinc helps people with mental health problems?
How much zinc do we need?
What foods are high in zinc?
What are the symptoms of zinc deficiency?
Who is at risk of zinc deficiency?

What is zinc used for in the body?

Zinc is vital for:

  • nerve development
  • proper brain function
  • making the neurotransmitter serotonin
  • controlling mood
  • reproduction
  • healthy vision and skin
  • preventing cell damage from oxidation
  • blood clotting
  • cell division
  • proper insulin, thyroid and immune system function
  • making proteins and DNA
  • healing wounds
  • proper taste and smell
  • supporting normal growth and development during pregnancy, childhood and adolescence

What evidence is there that zinc helps people with mental health problems?

Decades of research has found a relation between mental health disorders and zinc. Below are some study highlights.

In the 1970s Dr. Carl Pfeiffer reported that taking zinc and vitamin B6 supplements were 95% successful in managing over 400 cases of pyroluria-type schizophrenia, according to Raymond J. Pataracchia B.Sc., N.D. People with this type of schizophrenia have a condition called pyroluria. This means they have an abnormal amount of chemicals called pyrroles in their body. About half of schizophrenics have this health problem. Pfeiffer’s work has since led to thousands of people with pyroluria being successfully treated with zinc and vitamin B6 at the Institute for Optimum Nutrition in London and the Earth House, near Princeton in USA.

Dr. Pfeiffer and Scott LaMola B.Sc. claim low levels of zinc and manganese in children have been linked with lowered learning ability, apathy, lethargy and mental retardation. Hyperactive children may be low in zinc, manganese and vitamin B6, and have an excess of lead and copper.

Certain vitamins and minerals, including zinc, often help children with autism and ADHD, according to Dr. Abram Hoffer, former Director of Psychiatric Research in Saskatchewan, Canada.

Zinc supplements were tested in a small trial of children along with a standard ADHD medication (Ritalin). Zinc showed positive results on both parent and teacher tests of attention and hyperactivity. About 15 milligrams of zinc was used. This is a large amount that should only be taken under the supervision of a qualified health practitioner.

According to WebMD, a 2005 study in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology showed a link between zinc levels and teacher- and parent-rated inattention in children. Some studies suggest that children with ADHD might have lower levels of zinc in their body than children without this disorder. Some experts report improved symptoms in children with ADHD who took zinc along with traditional ADHD treatment. Several studies have shown zinc supplements can reduce hyperactivity and impulsivity.

The University of Maryland Medical Center says there is evidence that zinc might help children with ADHD who lack zinc to begin with.

In 2009 Ann DiGirolamo and Manuel Ramirez-Zea reported in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that they explored the link between zinc deficiency, depression and ADHD in patient and community samples. After reviewing data from over 30 years of research, they concluded that the data support a relation between low levels of zinc and mental health problems, especially in at-risk populations.

Evidence for the potential use of zinc in treating mental health problems comes mainly from patient populations. The evidence is strongest when zinc is taken with traditional treatment. Less conclusive evidence exists for how effective zinc is when taken alone or in general community samples.

How much zinc do we need?

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for zinc for adults is between 8 and 11 milligrams, according to The National Institutes of Health in USA. Women who are lactating need slightly more.

What foods are high in zinc?

Good sources of zinc include:

  • oysters (best source)
  • meat (including poultry)
  • some shellfish, such as crabs and lobster
  • breakfast cereals with added zinc
  • wholegrains
  • cashews
  • seeds
  • beans
  • lentils
  • peas

Phytates are natural substances in plant-foods that bind zinc and hinder its absorption. This means we absorb more zinc from animal foods than from non-animal foods.

Here are some high-zinc foods with the amount of zinc they contain.

  • One medium oyster – 12 mg
  • Three ounces (about 85 grams) cooked beef shanks – 9 mg
  • Three ounces cooked Alaska king crab – 6 mg
  • Three ounces cooked shoulder pork – 4 mg
  • Three-quarters of a cup breakfast cereal (fortified with 25% of the daily value for zinc) – 4 mg
  • One roast chicken leg – 3 mg
  • Half a cup canned baked beans – 2 mg

What are the symptoms of zinc deficiency?

As with other mineral deficiencies, symptoms of lack of zinc can range from mild to severe depending on, for example, how low zinc levels are in the body and how long the person has been low in zinc.

Signs of zinc deficiency include:

  • depression
  • impotence
  • low fertility
  • delayed sexual maturation
  • night blindness
  • poor growth
  • skin problems such as pimples, acne, greasy skin, atopic dermatitis and psoriasis
  • eye lesions
  • hair loss
  • diarrhea
  • lack of menstrual period
  • frequent infections
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • lack of taste or smell
  • slow wound healing
  • white spots on the fingernails
  • poor dream recall
  • pale skin

Who is at risk of zinc deficiency?

People most at risk of being low in zinc are those who:

  • don’t get enough zinc through their diet, such as those on a restricted diet
  • drink a lot of alcohol
  • have diabetes
  • are pregnant or lactating
  • are senior citizens
  • are vegetarian
  • have a malabsorption syndrome, such as Crohn’s disease or celiac disease
  • have chronic infections
  • have anorexia
  • have hookworm
  • have cirrhosis
  • have chronic renal disease
  • have severe trauma
  • have sickle cell disease
  • have acrodermatitis enteropathica (a metabolic disorder affecting the uptake of zinc)

Summary

Zinc plays an important role in mental health. There are many groups of people that can have low levels of zinc, and these people, in particular, need to ensure they get enough zinc for optimum health and well-being. For extra happiness it’s vital to be aware of the symptoms of zinc deficiency.

written by Nyomi Graef

References:
Akhondzadeh, S et al., 2004, Zinc sulfate as an adjunct to methylphenidate for the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children: A double blind and randomized trial, BMC Psychiatry, Vol. 4, No. 9,
http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-244X/4/9/

Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Zinc, 2009, Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health, USA,
ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/

DiGirolamo, AM et al., 2009, Role of zinc in maternal and child mental health, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 89, No. 3, 940S-945S,
http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/89/3/940S.full

Hoffer, A, 1999, Dr. Hoffer’s ABC of Natural Nutrition for Children, Kingston, Canada: Quarry Press

Hoffer, A, 2004, Healing Children’s Attention & Behavior Disorders: Complementary Nutritional & Psychological Treatments, Toronto, Canada: CCNM Press

Holford, P, 1992, Optimum Nutrition, London, UK: ION Press

Holford, P, 2003, Optimum Nutrition for the Mind, London, UK: Piatkus

Pfeiffer, CC et al., n.d., Zinc and Manganese in the Schizophrenias, Orthomed.org,
http://www.orthomed.org/resources/papers/pffschz.htm

The world health report, Chapter 4, Zinc deficiency, 2002, World Health Organization,
http://www.who.int/whr/2002/chapter4/en/index3.html

Vitamins and Supplements for ADHD, 2009, WebMD,
http://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/guide/vitamins-supplements-adhd

Wahlqvist, ML, (Ed.), 1988, Food and Nutrition in Australia (3rd ed.), Melbourne, Australia: Thomas Nelson

Winter Griffith, H, 1995, The Vitamin Fact File, London, UK: Diamond Books

Zinc, 2008, University of Maryland Medical Center,
http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/zinc-000344.htm

Zinc in diet, 2009, MedlinePlus,
http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002416.htm

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9 Responses to “Zinc supplements can help treat depression, ADHD, schizophrenia and other mental health problems”

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  4. Thanks for your post. It’s good to read something related to ADHD that makes sense. I’m going to bookmark your site and come back to it.

  5. Thanks form posting this info about zinc. My son has ADHD and I will be looking into this and supplementing his diet.

  6. Verona Bell says:

    My children suffering from mental illness; I knew deep down it had something to do with my bullemia.

  7. Nyomi says:

    Hello Verona,

    I’m sorry to hear about you and your children. I recommend that you/they (I don’t know how old your children are) seek help from one or more healthcare professionals in regards to your/their health problems, if you/they aren’t already doing so. Bulimia and mental illness can have serious physical health consequences, and both can spoil quality of life. Good health professionals can help a lot.

    There’s lots of information on the internet about bulimia and mental illness, should you want to know more about these. One very good online article about bulimia, that might be of help to you, is by Helpguide.org: http://helpguide.org/mental/bulimia_signs_symptoms_causes_treatment.htm.

    I do not, however, think that online reading is a substitute for help from relevant healthcare professionals. I still recommend that you/your children see one (or more) healthcare professionals.

    I hope things improve for all of you soon.

    Thanks for visiting my website and for taking the time to comment.

    All the best,

    Nyomi

  8. Alison says:

    Wonderful post and thank you for including the sources! Many people do not source information today, this was informative and a great read.

  9. Nyomi says:

    Hi Alison,

    Thank you for your kind comment. I’m glad you like my blog post.

    All the best

    Kind regards,
    Nyomi

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