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Is zinc difficult to get on a vegan diet? The National Institutes of Health in their Fact Sheet on Zinc say:That's vegetarianism. Below is a recent study that describes how zinc deficiency can develop with age, independant of diet. Since zinc is an integral component of the immune system, defiency or sub-optimal levels can lead to a decline of the immune response (so, increased vulnerability to infection), and increased inflammation (so, increased risk for inflammatory diseases - heart disease, cancer, arthritis, and diabetes).
"The bioavailability of zinc from vegetarian diets is lower than from non-vegetarian diets because vegetarians do not eat meat, which is high in bioavailable zinc and may enhance zinc absorption. In addition, vegetarians typically eat high levels of legumes and whole grains, which contain phytates that bind zinc and inhibit its absorption."The RDA for adult men is 11mg, women 8mg. So, vegans may want to shoot for: men 16.5mg, women 12mg.
"Vegetarians sometimes require as much as 50% more of the RDA for zinc than non-vegetarians."
Increased Inflammatory Response In Aged Mice Is Associated With Age-related Zinc Deficiency And Zinc Transporter Dysregulation, The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, September 2012
From the abstract:
"Zinc deficiency ... was associated with increased inflammation with age. ... Restoring zinc status via dietary supplementation reduced aged-associated inflammation."The research was conducted at Oregon State University which released a press release:
Zinc Deficiency Mechanism Linked To Aging, Multiple Diseases, Oregon State University, 1 October 2012
"[The study] suggests that it’s especially important for elderly people to get adequate dietary intake of zinc, since they may need more of it at this life stage when their ability to absorb it is declining.So ... The elderly, especially if they don't eat much animal food, are vulnerable to zinc deficiency. This raises the question, again, as to the suitability of supplements for this population. Taking any single nutrient in pill form can offset the amount of other nutrients we absorb. The authors said so much:
[The study] found that zinc transporters were significantly dysregulated in old animals. They showed signs of zinc deficiency and had an enhanced inflammatory response even though their diet supposedly contained adequate amounts of zinc.
When the animals were given about 10 times their dietary requirement for zinc, the biomarkers of inflammation were restored to those of young animals.
“We’ve previously shown in both animal and human studies that zinc deficiency can cause DNA damage, and this new work shows how it can help lead to systemic inflammation,” [study author] Ho said.
In zinc deficiency, the risk of which has been shown to increase with age, the body’s ability to repair genetic damage may be decreasing even as the amount of damage is going up."
"Levels of zinc intake above 40 milligrams per day should be avoided, researchers said, because at very high levels they can interfere with absorption of other necessary nutrients, including iron and copper."Nonetheless, Ho advised all seniors to take a supplement that includes the full RDA for zinc (11mg for men, 8mg for women). This doesn't sound like a bad idea.