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The Risk of Zinc Deficiency

Little White Lies

When I was little I remember asking my Mom why I had white spots underneath my fingernails. Probably not knowing herself, and not being concerned about such a common affliction, she teasingly told me it was a sign I had lied about something — and that’s why they called them “little white lies.”

I believed it for a few years. But then, like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, it fell by the wayside, another childhood myth ruined by my emerging adulthood.

Later, in college, I heard they were an indication of calcium deficiency. I was never a big milk-drinker or spinach-eater and had my fair share of nutritional guilt — so, again, I believed it. Turns out that was wrong too.

Nutritional deficiency is a big factor, though in this case, calcium isn’t the culprit. It’s more likely a zinc deficiency. You might be surprised at how much of our health can be affected by not getting enough zinc: Your fingernails are just the beginning.

Zinc plays a significant role in growth and development and is implicated in just about every structural function in the body. It is literally essential to all forms of life. Neurological function and reproduction are particularly dependent on zinc. Deficiency can have a serious impact and causes skin problems, diarrhea, impaired wound healing, hair loss, impaired taste sensation, reduced appetite, night blindness, swelling and clouding of the corneas, and even behavioral disturbances. In developing countries zinc deficiency is more common, and is often life threatening.

In this country, teenagers are at the highest risk of zinc deficiency, since zinc is used at higher rates by the body during times of intense cell growth and division.

But the food highest in zinc — oysters — is probably not going to make it to the top of a teen’s daily diet, unless you can slip them onto a pizza. But other seafood, eggs, liver, and beef are also good zinc providers. But with the trend towards vegetarianism that is growing among teens, getting them to take supplements might be the best bet.

The risk of zinc deficiency doesn’t end with the teenage years, I’m afraid. So we’d all be well-advised to keep an eye out for those telltale white fingernail spots — and make sure to get 25-30 milligrams of zinc (picolinate or citrate) into your daily regimen, along with 2 milligrams of copper to prevent zinc-induced copper deficiency.

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Codex confusion

Q: I recently received an email explaining “American consumer’s right to buy dietary supplements was NOT in danger and that there were no longer bills before congress that would propose new regulation”. I thought this Codex thing was for real and I’ve been doing my best to follow your advice to help fight this battle. Can you tell me what is going on with this?

JVW: I’m excited to tell you about a recent positive development with regard to Codex but first let me address the email you received. It seems that an unauthorized e-mail was sent out earlier this year that contained mostly false or outdated information. That particular email was debunked as nothing more than urban legend, although it does still find its way around. To be sure you’re getting current and accurate information regarding Codex, please refer to the Alliance for Natural Health (ANH) website at www.alliance-natural-health.org. You’ll find more information about the false e-mail there as well.

The newest development with regard to Codex came on April 5, 2005 from Luxemburg, Germany. Advocate General Geelhoed, chairman of the European Courts of Justice pronounced that the Food Supplements Directive was invalid under European Union law. Although this is not a ruling, the Court Judgment, in most cases, follows the lead of the Advocate General.

A final ruling will likely come sometime in June. In the meantime, the ANH is more hopeful now than ever that the Food Supplements Directive “positive” list will be declared illegal, and the ban on vitamins and minerals that was expected on August 1, 2005 will not happen.

For the record, American consumers DO have much to lose if this legislation ever goes into effect in Europe. Because we belong to the World Trade Organization, we are bound by trade regulations to “harmonize” our laws to those of our European counterparts.

On a more personal note, please don’t feel that your efforts were all for nothing. Democracy demands participation, and public figures often exercise the best judgment when they are keenly aware that someone is watching. So stay tuned for the next ruling. While this is certainly a positive development, we’re not out of the woods yet.

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What are…Beau’s lines?

Beau’s lines are the grooves and ridges sometimes found in fingernails. They can develop in response to many diseases, such as syphilis, diabetes, myocarditis, peripheral vascular disease, and zinc deficiency. They might also occur after any illness accompanied by high fevers, such as scarlet fever, measles, mumps, and pneumonia.

The nails are a great indication of health — as well as a harbinger of disease that should not be ignored.

Yours in good health,
Amanda Ross
Managing Editor

Sources:

Pfeiffer CC, Jenney EH. “Letter: Fingernail white spots: possible zinc deficiency.” JAMA 1974; 228(2): 157