It is common knowledge that Vitamin B12 supplementation is encouraged on a vegan diet. The majority of women are aware of the need to balance calcium and magnesium intake for hormonal regulation, restorative sleep, musculoskeletal and cardiovascular health, and so on. Menstruating women watch their iron intake carefully, test their serum levels regularly to avoid deficiency, and sometimes supplement with iron. But are we paying attention to our zinc intake? Zinc is a mineral required for a strong immune system, pimple-free skin, collagen synthesis, eye health, etc. But perhaps the most important yet overlooked benefit that can be achieved through thoughtfully examining and increasing zinc intake is improved mental health status.
If you suffer with any mental health difficulties related to neurotransmitter dysregulation including disordered eating or body image, addiction of any kind, depression, anxiety, panic disorder, phobias, obsessive-compulsive tendencies, post-traumatic stress disorder, etc. (or tendencies toward any of these conditions) you should absolutely be aware of the role of zinc on your mental wellbeing. Unfortunately, the compassionate individuals who choose to follow a vegan diet will likely consume less zinc and perhaps more copper than their omnivorous counterparts. Zinc and copper work synergistically (similar to calcium and magnesium) and when individuals become copper toxic due to excessive consumption, serum zinc levels can plummet. Meat and shellfish top the list of dietary sources of zinc while the vegan sources of zinc also contain high amounts of competing copper and other anti-nutrients that decrease the absorption of zinc. Whole grains, legumes, fruits, tea, chocolate, and alcohol can decrease the amount of dietary zinc that is absorbed in the digestive system. Similarly, zinc deficiency is common in alcoholics, which can contribute to the many mental health difficulties associated with over-imbibing. And be aware that binge drinking is defined as drinking more than four drinks in an evening. Remember that as we approach the season of holiday parties, friends!
Research has demonstrated that zinc deficiency can lead to estrogen dominance, anxiety, panic disorder, schizophrenia, despair and depression, feelings of doom, fatigue, hypothyroidism, obsessive thinking, insomnia, PMS, heart palpitations, poor attention span, eating disorders, and more. According to the World Health Organization, it is estimated that 31% of the world is zinc deficient. In developed countries, it is apparent that our health problems are a result of over-nutrition, not malnourishment. This over consumption of copper-rich foods can drive down our serum zinc levels and lead to the aforementioned conditions!
Some animal products have been found to contain an excessive amount of copper. In fact, Mexico has rejected US Beef as unsafe, citing copper levels exceeding what is considered safe for human consumption. Shockingly (or not), that very same cow flesh was legally sold for purchase in the United States. (Can I get an Amen for the plant based lifestyle?!) But even strict vegans can develop an imbalance between copper and zinc due to decreased zinc consumption or absorption, corrosion of copper piping caused by soft and acidic water, copper kitchenware, mineral-devoid soils, and oral contraceptives. This excess copper is linked to Alzheimer’s Disease, low blood pressure, heart disease, PMS, postpartum depression, paranoia, hallucinatory schizophrenias, childhood hyperactivity, and autism.
Consuming an overabundance of copper in relation to zinc is unfortunately very easy to accomplish on a vegan diet, since vegan food staples are rich with copper. Just one cup of tofu has 106% Recommended Daily Value of copper. One cup of sweet potato has 79% Daily Value. Legumes, nuts, and seeds are also rich in copper, with some variety contributing 60%-80% Daily Value of copper. It is not hard to see how one single scrumptious plant based lunch can result in at least 300% Daily Value of copper. This is why I take a vegan zinc supplement and nosh on raw pumpkin seeds- packed with 44% Daily Value per cup! I have experienced an increase in immunity and an improvement in my mental well-being since adding this mineral to my regimen, which is why I want to share this information with you!
Recently, while visiting Boston’s Fenway Park in our quest to visit all of the Major League Baseball stadiums, my husband and I witnessed a teen girl having a panic attack inside the park during the third inning while we went on the hunt for a vegan hot dog. She was leaning against a concrete wall while her two young friends tried unsuccessfully to talk her out of a hyperventilation fit. I wanted so much to approach this girl and encourage deep exhalations to slowly remedy this carbon dioxide imbalance, but before my husband and I could even make it through the crowded concession area to come within 30 feet of her, she got up and began sprinting as fast as she could, pushing herself through crowds of people. When the stadium’s staff were alerted to this fight or flight girl, they eventually cornered her in to a hallway, and began to approach her in an attempt to restrain her while she screamed on the top of her lungs for them to get away. EMS arrived shortly and undoubtedly wrestled her into some tight space to subdue her. Witnessing this event inspired me to write this article. How many people try prescription psychotropics only to be sedated but not cured of their anxieties, phobias, and other mental disorders? Research shows that decreased serum levels of zinc and increased serum levels of copper has been correlated with anxiety (the root cause of many mental health disorders), which improved within weeks of zinc supplementation. Zinc has been shown to increase vagus nerve stimulation, which promotes relaxation.
And I must share that my sweet German Wirehaired Pointer mix rescue dog named Millie also benefits from zinc supplementation! I purchased a zinc supplement for our pup after I ran out of other ideas for her television-beeps-induced-shaking fits. She’s not afraid of fire engines blaring their horns during our town’s Christmas parade. She’s not afraid of severe thunderstorms or the wild Colorado hail storms we experience from time to time. But the intro to the television show “Hawaii 5-0″ (amongst other shows and commercials that include high pitch beeping noises) caused her to go into an uncontrollable trembling state for at least 20 minutes. A month ago, I thought to myself, “Why don’t I experiment with giving zinc to Millie for her irrational fear of beeping on the TV?” Within two days of supplementing, I stopped seeing her exhibit this fearful behavior- and have not witnessed it since! I highly recommend that anyone with a nervous pup tries a zinc supplement for their anxious furry friend! Research the appropriate dose based on your dog’s weight. I gave her half the recommended dose for her weight and instantly saw improvement.
So if you are interested in trying this supplement for your own mental health, please also consider Vitamin B6 and B2 if you don’t already take a multivitamin or a B complex. A hair mineral analysis can be conducted in a naturopathic doctor’s office, or through many online sources like Equilibrium Nutrition. Also read more about supporting neurotransmitter balance with vitamins, minerals, and amino acids by checking out The Mood Cure by Julia Ross. Whatever your diet consists of, you are at risk of zinc deficiency which can have catastrophic effects on your health and wellbeing. Mineral devoid soils on farms, drinking filtered water, leaky gut syndrome, and plumbing corrosion are just some of the factors that can lead to mineral imbalances in the body. Evaluate your copper to zinc ration and seek out a whole food vegan zinc supplement if you struggle with anxiety and depression of any sort!
Photo: Jose Martinez on Unsplash; Kelly Mimier