Zinc – the Missing Link

Zinc as a micro nutrient is essential for life – not just health. It took a while for medcine to see the value in nutrition – and the importance of zinc was hidden for a long while.

Sometimes raising a child can seem very difficult, yet often there is a very simple answer. The process of teething can be a mine field to be endured by all, yet it is sometimes easy to resolve. Instead of putting up with baby misery, 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 journeying, resulting in a complete alteration in my mothering, my teaching of therapists, and my practice as an acupuncturist and naturopath. My much wanted daughter managed to contract 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 were raised to a new level of battling for survival. During the war for her life, then functionality, had I known a little more about mineral supplementation, I am sure both our lives would have been 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. But 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 and neurological and psychological unfolding, AND all digestive aspects – from appetite and sense of taste through to the ability to actually absorb – hence influencing 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) diets allows vast improvements in baby health. This is especially true if administered in bubs who fail to thrive, who 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, even iron supplementation, may adversely affect our own zinc absorption. Zinc must be taken as supplementation to make up the extra required for baby to grow and develop properly. This is partially because we are consuming foods that may have zinc biologically unavailable to us and partially because our own levels of mercury from amalgams and other heavy metal contaminations are not interfering with our ability to actually use what we eat.

Zinc is found in many foods, highest in oysters, pecans, almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, whole grains, sardines, turkey and chicken, lima beans and buckwheat. Zinc content may not be present in crops due to superphosphate fertiliser usage reducing Zinc content in standard crops by up to 50%.

Zinc absorption is hindered by the presence of pollutants such as lead and cadmium. It is also impaired in people eating high fibre diets and when in the presence of calcium (milk for example). Zinc is lost when taking of steroids, alcohol, diuretics, antacids and oral contraceptives, laxatives and anti convulsant medication.

Zinc is vital for healthy fetal 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 baby – if over six months of age – and also to mum – through the breast milk – spectacularly facilitates growth and calmness for all concerned.

Picky eaters, those who refuse anything but the breast, when weaning is starting, those who are fussy and fractious, those who “catch’ things and who are battling with poor digestion – colic, bloating, bowel irregularities, food sensitivities and the resultant mucous, skin and breathing problems, and allergies all respond quickly if given zinc. This is usually within the first day or so. Zinc deficiency leads onto emotional and mental difficulties – 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 Mum getting postnatally depressed. Its use would also alleviate the rundown and hair shedding dramas that often are considered ‘normal’ to undergo.

Teething

Bones shouldn’t hurt whilst growing – baby doesn’t get massive head aches as the brain is developing with in her/his 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 and skin/immune (catching things) and digestive disorders. Baby may just want to suckle, wearing Mum out, especially if she has other small children to tend. Mum if likely to be zinc deficient – so there is little in the milk -and hence may already have stretch marks, inability to cope, a tendency to mastitis and depression, and have generally lost her sense of humour and perspective.

Homeopathic remedies, osteopathic corrections and watching mum’s diet may all assist, but maybe there is also still 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. Especially once you have tried supplemented your own baby, and have discovered the massive shift in health. Too early (before two years of age when the immune system is at least slightly mature) vaccination interfering with life long wellness later is another issue. If you must vaccinate, at least ensure baby has a very high nutrient load of Vitamin C and zinc beforehand.

What does Zinc Do?

Zinc is an important step in digestive wellbeing – it forms many of the digestive enzymes necessary to absorb nutrients well. Regardless of the goodness that is offered, if baby can not adequately break food down, much of its value is lost.

Zinc when in plentiful, useable supply in the body allows healthy growth – babies/toddlers /children who are fussy eaters, who get sick a lot, who don’t settle well, who have skin and breathing problems, whose teeth are slow to come through, or poor quality, especially those who are born with abundant, dark hair that falls out and grows back blonde/fine and /or wispy and/or who are also not robust may just need their Zinc levels boosted.

How can you tell?

For definite diagnosis, go to any 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 – if anything, vaguely metallic – but if child is strongly averse to it, (will split it out) maybe zinc is not the answer – so it is very easy both to diagnose, and treat.

Then, even if you are breastfeeding, take the Zinc Drink which is a different formulation, and cheaper – and not to be taken undiluted – but in a small glass of fluid – and give perhaps if baby is teething, or ill a lot, give extra as Zinc Tally. They are two separate products. Do not bother with tablets, as the [weakened] digestion (due to lack of zinc) has difficulty breaking a tablet into constituent bits, whereas a liquid is easily absorbed.

The difference in everything may be noticeable in a few days, as a lot of accepted ‘paediatric’ woes are simple nutritional deficiencies needing correction.

Before you feel guilty – realise that the food that looks so lovely; blemish free, not bruised, sparkling even in the supermarket – has been picked before it is ripe, before the blossoming of the goodness that would be there if it come out of your own garden, and has been fertilized and anti-pested – to look like this. The various super phosphates can block nutrient uptake by the plant EVEN IF IT IS IN THE SOIL TO START WITH.

So, if you have listened to the various well intentioned people who have advised against preconceptual/prenatal supplementation, or if you didn’t take liquid zinc before baby emerged, please start now – it is never too late. The body will just soak it up like a sponge.

The first thing you may notice is an increase on appetite – the taste buds kick in. If you supplement with Vitamin B – and C – just a little of both, but every few hours – you will notice an even larger, more astonishing difference, as baby – and you – start looking more ‘with it’.

Both Vitamin B and C are water soluble, which means that if your body doesn’t need it now, it can’t store it, so it is peed out – hence the increased colour in urine. Thus breaking all tablets in half is a good idea, as it is FREQUENCY not amount each time that will make the difference you are after.

Is there any danger in doing this?

No – but the attempts of the under nourished body to fulfil its genetic potential, without the building blocks to do a perfect job may be more expensive than you are willing to accept – untold ‘childhood’ illnesses – accepting a ‘cold’ every month – is NOT weakness, nor to be accepted.

Of course a strong immune system takes time and good care to foster – a well happy breastfeeding mother, absence of external toxins – through Mum’s milk, injections, and ‘solids’/supplementation of other foods too early – at least 4 months for the average baby – will allow for bub and mum to play the dance of wellness together.

Breast feeding allows for mum to ‘catch’ whatever in the shared environment, then instantly make the antibodies, shunt them through the milk to baby – and no problem – baby protected!

Examples in Life

My third child started teething at 4 months, and had her first tooth erupt at 7 ½ months. In the intervening time, she looked like a neglected baby – raw, angry weeping nappy rash that only responded to anti fungal/anti bacterial cortisone cream – which can not be used long term, as it thins the skin. Had I known then what to do, immense suffering would have been eased. She wore nothing in the daytime – I laid out towels – and screamed as though I was killing her, when she was bathed. Finally – a release from hell – the day two teeth arrived through the gum, the rash cleared, never to return.

What could I have done?

Liquid Zinc, several mls – on a teaspoon, three times daily.

She had vast medical problems, with severe gastric and neurological complications – massive doses of antibiotics and anti-virals and anti convulsants to keep her alive – and no doubt these, in combination with the disease that nearly killed her as a new born, were enough to reduce any Zinc she started with from me to minute levels.

How do I know this?

I read widely and observed patient’s responses to various changes in the way I practiced. Whilst this may appear very anecdotal, I imagine any parent with rashes / allergies / gut issues and teething all happening at once would be happy to try – no danger – just a likelihood of peace reigning in the house again.

When my fourth baby arrived, I was concerned to see that when teething, he seemed to lose his breathing rhythm, and sound a little wheezy. He started getting a little dry red rash, which came and went with teething episodes. At about nine months, we were shopping and a little old lady took a look at him (as they do) and told me he had a ‘teething necklace’. I put things together – and got some Zinc Tally – he couldn’t taste it – and he went through SEVEN and A HALF BOTTLES before he spat any out. In the meantime – I was still breastfeeding – I supplemented myself with Zinc. He eventually had the four eye teeth and a molar erupt all at once – with no drama at all.

No other changes were made. It was expected, as I had seen this happen many times in practice, and was very humbling – to realise in retrospect that such a simple thing could have probably relieved so much stress and suffering for both my daughter, and myself trying to mother her.

Recently, I spent some time with a woman who had been a prem baby herself. From my acupuncture model, this meant to me that she would have major disruptions passed down through her lineage as she herself was not fully finished, and could not, without substantial assistance through a wellness model, create and bring through healthy vital children. These things are not a matter of luck, but awareness and preferably prenatal correction.

She had a lifetime history of asthma/eczema and infectious susceptibility with definite food allergies and Candida issues. She wanted me to help with dietary suggestions. Her four year old had had to have many of her teeth recreated as they had crumbled. She was a demanding child, who had significant food and behavioural issues. She had recently started getting funny rashes and her hair was wispy and very slow growing.

The most obvious place for anyone to start in looking at young children is Zinc and Vitamin C (helps aid digestion and liver detoxification). She bought and administered the Zinc, and within a few days everyone around her noticed the child’s mood and complexion improvements. As Mum was a nurse, and had done everything the medical profession had suggested, she was very amazed that such an apparently small dietary inclusion could have such a profound effect.

Her daughter became happy and compliant, gaining extra weight, losing her rash and runny nose, and hopefully, starting to grow much better adult teeth within her jaw, as wound healing and structural development both need the raw ingredients AVAILABLE (digestion actually working well) to occur.

Try it yourself – everyone deserves to feel happy, vibrant and glowing – babies especially.


Related article:

Nutrition, Zinc and Post Natal Depression

Rather than looking to the momentous reasons behind the maternal dislocation and mothering anxiety that may be visiting your household, or that has in the past, here is an article that aims to encourage you to get pregnant again, if you would if you had the courage.

 

Read more on …Nutrition, Zinc and Post Natal Depression


What Dads Can Do by Heather Bruce

More on these topics can be found in Heather’s recent publication – What Dads Can Do – a manual for partners of pregnant women, available from www.heatherbrucebooks.com

An edited version of this article featured in Natural Parenting Magazine Issue 15 – Winter 2006.

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