The Wonders of Zinc

Zinc is a powerful chemical element. It is so powerful, only a very small amount is needed in our bodies to do what is required. Hence, it is considered a trace element – because only a “trace amount” is required in our systems.

If you look up the benefits of Zinc, you will be incredibly amazed at what it does – namely, strengthening our immune system, keeping hormones in check, pre-natal and post-natal development, absorption of nutrients, among other things. That’s just the human side. It’s applications through manufacturing and infrastructure are a whole different level.

As with most things in the world, zinc is good but only in moderation. Today we’ll go about what happens when you take too much zinc in. We hope that sinks in. To help understand how these side effects come into play, we’ll briefly go over zinc’s intended purpose, and then get into what happens when you take in too much for that said purpose:

  • Loss of smell. Zinc is a very powerful chemical element used in fighting the common cold. There were inhalers made with zinc made for this. The thing is, it often removed your sense of smell PERMANENTLY. Pretty good if you work next to a colleague with a bad case of body odor, but not when you want to enjoy the spa or have a nice tasty dinner somewhere.
  • Zinc toxicity. This is the biggest side effect there is. Toxicity levels usually occur when you take in more than 225mg of zinc. This happens to people who overdo the dietary supplements containing the said element. Its primary symptoms are nausea, vomiting, pain, cramps and diarrhea.
  • Copper deficiency. This is another problem caused by zinc toxicity. Copper deficiency has its own set of symptoms as well, such as anemia, myelopathy, peripheral neuropathy, and optic neuropathy.

  • Metal fume fever. Another result of zinc toxicity. No, this does not involve smelling everyone while you’re at a mosh pit in an awesome heavy metal concert. This usually applies to welders, or other people involved in metallurgy, particularly galvanization – a process of applying a hot dip zinc coat to protect iron and steel from corrosion. Plenty of symptoms on this one – including but limited to fever, chills, nausea, headache, fatigue, muscle aches, joint pains, lack of appetite, shortness of breath, pneumonia, chest pain, blood pressure change, and cough.
  • While zinc has it’s incredible uses in the human body – it was first and foremost discovered and used as a means of improving metal work, such as coins, weapons, brass and use in other alloys, as well as the aforementioned galvanization; so it should be no surprise that a chemical element meant for industrial applications would be deadly to humans and animals alike.

Back in the eighties the US began minting (the term for making coins) pennies coated in copper but primarily coated in zinc. The said concentration posed a risk of zinc toxicosis, which proved to be fatal. One patient ingested over 1 kilogram of zinc in the form of 425 pennies (money goes in the bank – not in the gut. Not sure what this person was thinking). Sometimes dogs accidentally ingested these coins, and the concentration often killed them even after removing the coin through surgery. Birds, particularly parrots, have died while drinking fruit juice from galvanized cans. That’s a lot of downed birds.

So there you have it, a rough guide on what not to do with zinc. It is best to ask advice from a nutritionist or a doctor about taking in zinc if you’re a body builder, an athlete or a pregnant woman. If your line of work involves metallurgy, it is best to make sure you have the right gear for the job, and avoid staying exposed for too long.