Could zinc play a role in depression & its treatment?


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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the last 10 years, around 1-in-10 Americans reported suffering from depression. The condition tends to hit some social groups harder than others. The CDC reports that women, minorities, the unemployed, the poorly educated, people ages 45 to 64 and, unsurprisingly, those without health insurance tend to be those most affected.

It’s true that modern life can be a sobering experience. Yet, according to a recent study, the roots of some cases of depression may, in fact, be dietary. Researchers at the University of Toronto found that there is an apparent correlation between depression and low zinc levels in blood. The findings are the result of the meta-analysis of 17 separate studies, which included 1,643 test subjects. Those examined included psychiatric inpatients, as well as “community samples.” 

An article by Traci Pedersen notes that, after the numbers had been crunched, it was discovered that “circulating blood-zinc concentrations were lower in depressed individuals compared with control participants.” Zinc, the researchers stress, “is an essential micronutrient with diverse biological roles,” including “neuronal functions implicated in the pathophysiology of depression.”

Moreover, Pedersen adds, early clinical trials have potentially indicated that adding zinc to existing depression treatments could make them more effective in treating the condition.

It is important to remember, says the National Institute of Health, that many of the symptoms of zinc deficiency — and that would include depression — are nonspecific, so “a medical examination is necessary to ascertain whether a zinc deficiency is present.”

The NIH says those at risk of zinc deficiency include people with gastrointestinal problems, vegetarians, pregnant and lactating women, people with sickle-cell anemia and alcoholics. Vegetarians, for instance, miss out on the zinc-rich red meat and poultry (not to mention oysters) that provide the majority of Americans with their recommended dietary allowance.

By the researchers' own admission, the results of the study are not irrefutable evidence. They do mean, though, that the links between depression and zinc levels “warrant further investigation.” Yet that shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. According to Psychology Today, the studies used in the new analysis were conducted throughout the last 20 years.

Zinc is also important for enzymes and immune function; protein synthesis; tissue healing; and growth and development during pregnancy, childhood and adolescence, as well as being required to maintain healthy eyes and a sense of taste and smell. New research even suggests that it's appreciably more effective than vitamin C at preventing colds.

A reasonable daily intake of zinc is advisable because the human body has no system for storing zinc. But, before you run to the pharmacy for those tasteless supplement pills, consider that a delicious solution could be right there in your kitchen. Oysters, anyone?