IBD and Zinc Deficiency

How To Know If You Need More Zinc, And How You Can Supplement

A mineral we don't often think about, zinc is not a common deficiency, but it can happen.. Image © Science Picture Co / Creative RM / Getty Images

Our bodies need vitamins and minerals to function properly, and digestive diseases can hinder their absorption. While it's not common for people to be deficient in zinc in Western countries, it can happen to people that aren't taking up enough of this mineral in their intestine. Not having enough zinc is more common in the developing world.

Zinc is a mineral that has several important functions in the body.

Some of the things zinc does include transporting vitamin A, healing wounds, supporting the senses of smell and taste, and participating in more than 80 enzyme actions. The good news is that for people who are deficient, supplementing is usually not too difficult. However, because it is not common anymore, it's not typically a mineral that is first thought of when a person exhibits any of the symptoms.

Zinc and IBD

Zinc is lost through diarrhea, and zinc deficiency, while uncommon, can occur in people who have inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). This is especially true of those with chronic diarrhea, which might happen during a flare-up of IBD. Other problems that can contribute to the poor uptake of zinc include gastrointestinal surgery and short bowel syndrome (SBS).

Zinc deficiencies used to be more common in people with IBD. As nutrition has improved, there are fewer instances of zinc deficiency.

However, severe vitamin and mineral deficiencies can still occur in some people, and proper nutrition is extremely important for anyone who has Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis. This is why restricting diet severely is not recommended for people with IBD. Getting back to a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables as soon as possible is so important to getting enough vitamins and minerals.

Symptoms of Zinc Deficiency

The symptoms of zinc deficiency can be subtle and might be explained away as not being anything too concerning. Symptoms of zinc deficiency include slow healing, weakness, white flecks in the fingernails, as well as impaired senses of sight, taste and smell. Zinc deficiency can also cause a condition known as acrodermatitis enteropathica. Acrodermatitis enteropathica causes an inflammation of the skin on the elbows, knees, cheeks, mouth, and perineum (area around the genitals and anus).

Treatment of Zinc Deficiency

Zinc deficiency is often treated with -- no surprise! -- zinc supplements. The best way to avoid a zinc deficiency is to eat a healthy diet. For people with IBD who find themselves zinc deficient, the best way to stop it is to get any diarrhea and inflammation under control, and potentially take some supplements. Proper treatment of your IBD is the single most important way to prevent zinc deficiency.

Zinc can be found in several different types of foods.

This includes:

  • Beef, lamb, pork, veal
  • Bran
  • Cheese (cheddar, American, gouda, mozzarella, muenster, Swiss)
  • Chicken, turkey (dark meat)
  • Crab, lobster, oysters, shrimp
  • Grains (wheat, rice, wheat germ and products made from these)
  • Green peas
  • Liver, Heart
  • Legumes and lentils
  • Nuts

The Bottom Line

A zinc deficiency is not common, even when diarrhea is a big problem, like it is for some people with IBD. However, it is a possibility, and if there are unexplained symptoms, testing for a zinc deficiency might be something a physician might consider. If it's found that there is a deficiency, eating some foods high in zinc may or may not help reverse it, but eating a healthy diet is always recommended. If a supplement is needed, it is important to take the right amount, which is why it is important to consult with a physician. Check with your doctor or dietitian about vitamin and mineral supplements if you are concerned about zinc or any other vitamin deficiency.


Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health. "Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Zinc." National Institutes of Health. 11 Feb 2016.

Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America. "Extraintestinal Complications: Skin Disorders." CCFA.org 1 May 2012.

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