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Symptoms of Zinc Overdose: Key Questions and Answers

Zinc is an extremely important trace element that is necessary for a healthy immune system. Hence, zinc deficiency can make people more susceptible to various diseases. Zinc is responsible for a number of functions in the human body and stimulates the activity of at least 100 different enzymes.

However, only a small amount of zinc is required for healthy body function. Therefore, even relatively small amounts of the trace element can lead to a zinc overdose with pronounced symptoms in the body.

In this article we will explain to you all the essential questions and aspects relating to the symptoms of a zinc overdose. In addition, the importance of zinc is explained and how you can treat a zinc overdose.

the essentials in brief

  • Zinc is an essential nutrient that plays a crucial role throughout the body and controls important biochemical processes.
  • Ingesting too much zinc can be harmful and cause a number of symptoms, including nausea, diarrhea, and headaches.
  • Zinc occurs as a natural element in many different foods, but it is also available as a dietary supplement.

Definition: what is the importance of zinc for humans?

A mineral that is essential for the human body due to its chemical properties. It is part of many enzymes that allow important biochemical reactions to proceed without restrictions. Accordingly, zinc is also involved, for example, in the production of protein (protein synthesis) and in cell division.

In addition, the element is also a component of insulin and can be decisive for the function of the sense of smell. Natural food sources for zinc include meat, especially liver and seafood, eggs, nuts and grains (1).

Background: What you should know about the symptoms of a zinc overdose

The excessive consumption of zinc can quickly lead to zinc intoxication in the body. The zinc overdose can then lead to gastrointestinal complaints and, at further stages, negatively affect the balance of other chemicals in the body, including those of copper and iron. It is therefore imperative to deal with the zinc overdose scenario and take preventive measures.

Today, many over-the-counter vitamin products and supplements contain the element zinc. Therefore, taking more than one dietary supplement at the same time can increase the risk of exceeding the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of zinc.

Zinc is contained in various preparations. Therefore, special care should be taken when taking several dietary supplements.

Furthermore, the zinc in the environment can also lead to zinc intoxication in the body. Zinc is a metal that occurs naturally in small quantities in water, soil and food. However, human intervention in the environment can also result in particularly large amounts of the metal getting into the water and the soil and thus contaminating the environment.

When is the term zinc overdose and when do the first symptoms appear?

As already mentioned, zinc is one of the essential and therefore vital trace elements. This element must be supplied to the human body through food, as it cannot produce the mineral on its own. Basically, women need a little less zinc than men. The recommended amount can be slightly higher during pregnancy and after childbirth (2).

A healthy and balanced diet is usually sufficient to meet the recommended daily zinc requirement. Therefore, it can easily happen that the recommended amounts are exceeded due to an improper diet or excessive dietary supplements.

A blood count can provide clarity.

If this improper diet is continued for a long time, the result can be a zinc overdose. This overdose does not always have to lead directly to symptoms and can progress completely unnoticed.

If you feel that you are suffering from a zinc overdose, you should discuss this with a doctor. In adults, a zinc level of 70 to 150 µg / dl in the blood serum is considered normal. Values ​​above this indicate an excessive zinc concentration (3).

What are the signs and symptoms of a zinc overdose?

An increased zinc level in the body does not necessarily have to lead to symptoms. Symptoms usually only occur when there is a prolonged overdose in the body. In addition, the increased intake of zinc over a short period of time can also lead to side effects. For example, taking 25 milligrams over a day can cause side effects (4).

Symptoms of a zinc overdose include:

  • stomach pain
  • diarrhea
  • nausea
  • fatigue
  • Dizziness

Furthermore, zinc can also negatively affect the absorption and amount of other elements such as iron, copper, magnesium or calcium. Therefore, excessive zinc intake can also result in anemia due to iron deficiency.

In addition, not only the increased intake of zinc from food can lead to symptoms, but also the ingestion of fumes during welding work. This condition is also known as metal fume fever or zinc fever.

The following symptoms occur with zinc fever (5):

  • Sore throat
  • to cough
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Diarrhea and vomiting

It should also always be borne in mind that these symptoms can also be a side effect of other clinical pictures. Therefore, the symptoms do not necessarily indicate a zinc overdose and can have other causes.

What are the causes of zinc overdose in the body?

The most common cause of an excess of zinc in the body is the ingestion of too many zinc preparations or other dietary supplements. It should be noted that no more than the recommended dose is taken.

Since zinc occurs naturally in many foods anyway, the use of explicit preparations is only advisable if there is a zinc deficiency.

Other causes can also be responsible for the zinc overdose. However, these are rare. One of these causes could, for example, be a malfunctioning kidney, which means that the excess zinc is no longer excreted in sufficient quantities.

People who work in the metal industry, such as welders, can develop a condition known as metal fume fever. This disease is acute but rather short-lived and occurs when someone inhales too much zinc through dust or fumes (6).

How is zinc absorbed in the body?

Zinc is one of the most abundant minerals in the human body after iron and is found in every cell. Depending on the bioavailability of the actual food source, around 20-40% of the zinc contained is absorbed by the body (7).

Basically, it can be said that the bioavailability of zinc from cereals and plant foods is lower than that from animal foods. As a rule, a large amount of zinc can be absorbed from red meat and poultry. Most of the zinc is found in oysters per serving. Plant-based zinc suppliers include beans, nuts and whole grain products.

In addition, zinc is also a component of many dietary supplements and vitamin preparations. The simultaneous use of different products can lead to zinc intoxication.

What To Do About Zinc Overdose Symptoms: How Should Corresponding Symptoms Be Treated?

A zinc overdose cannot be treated without further ado, as there are no therapies and treatment options available yet. The body has to break down and excrete the element on its own. Therefore, you should always pay attention to the correct dosage so that too much zinc is not supplied to the body. However, if a zinc overdose has already been diagnosed, there are certain measures that should be taken.

When should a doctor be consulted?

A doctor should always be consulted if the symptoms do not go away on their own after a few days. Because the symptoms can also indicate a more serious illness. Furthermore, a zinc overdose does not always lead to symptoms, so you should consult a doctor as soon as you suspect that you are exposed to too much zinc due to work or a wrong diet or have an elevated zinc level (8).

Even before a possible zinc overdose, you should consult a doctor for advice and discuss the use of dietary supplements or vitamin preparations. Since taking different preparations at the same time can lead to a zinc overdose in the body. This is also particularly important because certain drugs or diseases can affect zinc absorption in different ways.

How Much Zinc Should I Consume Daily?

The element zinc is essential for our body as it controls essential processes. But that does not mean that you should resort to preparations straight away. Sufficient zinc is normally consumed through a balanced and healthy diet.

To ensure that you are taking in the required amount of the mineral and not adding too much, you can use the recommended daily dose as a guide. It should be noted that the daily amount can depend on many factors.

The table below gives a more detailed overview of the recommended daily doses (9):

group Daily reference value
Men 10 milligrams
Women 7 milligrams
Pregnant women 10 milligrams
Breastfeeding women 11 milligrams
Infants (up to 1 year) 2 milligrams
Toddlers (1 - 4 years) 3 milligrams

It can be seen that the recommended daily doses depend on gender and age, among other things. For example, men should generally consume more zinc than women, except when a woman is expecting a child or is breastfeeding.

What therapy options are available with which the symptoms of a zinc overdose can be treated?

As mentioned earlier, there are no dedicated therapies to treat zinc overdose. Nevertheless, in the event of an overdose, appropriate measures can be taken to counteract the zinc overdose.
An overdose can subsequently cause serious damage to the body.

In the event of a zinc overdose or if an overdose is suspected, the local poison control center should be called first. The poison control center can determine the severity of the overdose based on the statements.

In acute cases, drinking milk can also alleviate many of the symptoms mentioned above and help the levels return to normal. A 2017 study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that the phosphorus and high protein content in milk can limit the body's excessive absorption of zinc (10).

Conclusion

Zinc is an important part of a healthy and balanced diet. Therefore, one should make sure that sufficient zinc is supplied. However, it should also be noted that too much zinc can lead to an acute or chronic overdose in the body.

Ingesting too much zinc, whether from occupational exposure or from supplements or vitamins, can cause serious health problems. It is therefore particularly important to speak to a doctor or consult a doctor immediately if a zinc overdose is suspected.

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