Zinc In Children – The Missing Link
Article by Heather Bruce
Natural Parenting Magazine Issue 15 - Winter 2006.
Sometimes raising a child can seem very difficult, yet often there is a simple solution to support ourselves and our children during these times.
The process of teething can be a mine field to be endured by all.
Yet is often something that can be simply resolved. Instead of struggling with a miserable baby, compounded by illness and grumpiness and everyone’s lost sleep and good humour, think – why is this new body creating havoc? Is there something missing – a magic ingredient?
Between the births of my third and fourth children, I had to take massive steps in my own inner journey. This resulted in completely altering my approach to mothering, my teaching of therapists, and my practice as an acupuncturist and naturopath.
My much wanted daughter contracted an in utero infection, which left her massively brain injured. Our dance of life and death together showed me in real terms, many significant lessons.
Fighting for life, and attempting to still live with significant nervous system destruction meant that her body did not automatically flow through the usual developmental phases. In addition, such simple acts as teething became a battle for survival. During her struggle for life and functionality, increased knowledge about mineral supplementation, would have been extremely useful in making the journey less complicated.
I had assumed (as we mostly do) that a good multi vitamin pill a couple of times daily, plus a varied diet was sufficient to assist my breast milk to nourish her. After reading a few professional articles, a decade on, I saw the role of zinc in a new light. Whilst it can be called a micro nutrient, it is part of the healthy development and functioning of the immune system, mucous membranes, skin integrity, normal brain, neurological and psychological unfolding and all digestive aspects. Zinc influences everything.
Looking at various articles on the web, it is easy to catch the thread of research. In less developed countries, it has been shown that zinc supplementation in maternal pre and post natal (through lactation) diet encourages vast improvements in baby health. This is especially true if administered in babies who fail to thrive, are underweight for gestation age, or who are premature, and risk infectious mortality.
Taking this back to our own culture’s apparently high states of nutrition, we could realise that maternal stress, smoking and iron supplementation, may adversely affect our own zinc absorption. Zinc must be taken as supplementation to provide the increased requirements of a baby. Supplementation is necessary partially because we are consuming foods that are depleted in zinc. In addition our own levels of mercury from amalgams and other heavy metal contaminations interfere with our ability to absorb nutrients such as zinc from our food.
Zinc is found in many foods and is highest in oysters, pecans, almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, whole grains, sardines, turkey, chicken, lima beans and buckwheat. Due to superphosphate fertiliser, zinc may be dramatically reduced in these foods
Zinc absorption is hindered by the presence of pollutants such as lead and cadmium. It is also impaired by consuming a high fibre diet and when in the presence of calcium (milk for example). Zinc is lost when we take steroids, alcohol, diuretics, antacids, oral contraceptives, laxatives and anti convulsant medication.
Zinc is vital for healthy foetal and newborn development. Zinc is essential for the production and function of DNA and RNA. This means that growth and repair of all cells in the body is dependent on the body’s ability to access zinc.
Besides the obvious failure of a brain to actually form (anacephaly), zinc deficiency may be suspected in prematurity, and in small babies who are not flourishing. I have since observed in clinical practice that giving a liquid (easier to digest) zinc supplement directly to breastfeeding mothers and babies over six months of age, spectacularly facilitates growth and calmness for all concerned.
Struggles with digestion, allergies, eating and immunity can be assisted with zinc supplementation. This usually happens quickly once supplementation begins. Inadequate levels of zinc can lead to emotional and mental difficulties and definitely may be taken as a lateral mood enhancer.
In my mainly obstetric practice, zinc was a prerequisite for both prospective parents (indicated for health and vitality on all aspects of reproduction) and throughout pregnancy, to ensure well babies. Zinc supplementation may be all that is needed to stop women experiencing postnatal depression. Supplementation may also alleviate the rundown and hair shedding dramas that often are considered ‘normal’ after the birth of a child.
Returning to teething in our babies – bones shouldn’t hurt whilst growing. Baby doesn’t get massive head aches as the brain is developing within her cranium – so why is the eruption of the teeth so different and often dramatic?
Teething can create a number of biochemical imbalances that show up as distress, colic, allergies, fussiness, depleted immunity and digestive disorders. Babies may want to continuously suckle to alleviate their pain. Women who are zinc deficient may have stretch marks, experience an inability to cope or a tendency to mastitis and depression.
Homeopathic remedies, osteopathic corrections and improving diet may all assist. However these approaches may not address an underlying nutritional deficiency. Prenatally, our focus could well be on zinc rather than iron, folate and calcium, as without adequate zinc, all nutrient absorption is affected.
As stated above, zinc maintains a vigorous immune system, well mucous membranes, strong and robust digestion. All teething issues could be seen as zinc deficiency symptoms. .
What does zinc do?
Zinc is an important contributor to digestive wellbeing. It forms many of the digestive enzymes necessary to absorb nutrients well. Regardless of the goodness that is offered, if a baby can not adequately break food down much of its value is lost.
How can you tell if you need to supplement?
Seek the advice of your naturopath or health food shop and ask for the Zinc Tally Test to be done. A little liquid will be placed in the child’s mouth, and it is likely they will think it is water. When deficient in zinc, it tastes of nothing or there is a slight and vaguely metallic taste. If your child is strongly averse to the taste and spits it out then maybe zinc is not the answer.
Then, even if you are breastfeeding, take the Zinc Drink which is a different (and cheaper) formulation. Zinc Drink is to be only taken diluted in a small glass of fluid. Zinc in tablet form is difficult to digest due to a weakened digestive system. Liquid zinc is easier to absorb.
Is there any danger in supplementing?
There is no danger in supplementing. The attempts of the under nourished body to fulfil its genetic potential, without the building blocks to do a perfect job may however be more expensive than you are willing to accept. Untold ‘childhood’ illnesses, accepting a ‘cold’ every month is not weakness, nor to be accepted. A strong immune system takes time and good care to foster.