Zinc: the neglected nutrient.
Zinc was first recognized as essential for animals at the University of Illinois School of Agriculture in 1916, when it was found that zinc-deficient baby pigs were runty, developed dermatitis on their legs, and were sterile. Zinc deficiency was first recognized in man by Dr. Ananda Prasad of Detroit 26 years ago when he measured serum and hair zinc levels in young male Egyptian dwarfs who had failed to mature and were small in stature. By simply adding zinc to their regular diet, they grew in height and became sexually mature. It is now recognized that dwarfism in males is frequent around the Mediterranean, where wheat is the staple of life and has been grown for 4,000 years on the same soil, thereby resulting in the depletion of zinc. Professor Robert Henkin first suggested that zinc deficiency might cause hearing-nerve impairment. Assay of the soft tissues of the cochlea and vestibule revealed a zinc level higher than that of any other part of the body. Previously, the eye was considered to have the highest level of zinc of any organ. To diagnose zinc deficiency clinically, we use serum zinc assays made at the Mayo Clinic Trace Element Laboratory. With zinc supplementation in patients who are marginally zinc deficient, there has been improvement in tinnitus and sensorineural hearing loss in about one-third of elderly adults. We believe zinc deficiency is one causation of presbycusis; by recognizing and correcting it, a progressive hearing loss can be arrested.
Am J Otol. 1989 Mar;10(2):156-60. PMID: 2786676.