Moody students? Zinc deficiency could be to blame

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  • Published: Jan 15, 2017
  • Author: David Bradley
  • Channels: Atomic
thumbnail image: Moody students? Zinc deficiency could be to blame

The lowdown on zinc

Zinc deficiency has been suggested as one possible risk factor for the onset and progression of mood disorders. A study utilising flame atomic absorption spectrometry (FAAS) has been carried out to assess this hypothesis in adolescent female high school students. (Photo by David Bradley(

Zinc deficiency has been suggested as one possible risk factor for the onset and progression of mood disorders. A study utilising flame atomic absorption spectrometry (FAAS) has been carried out to assess this hypothesis in adolescent female high school students.

There are myriad factors that affect our moods whether good or bad, and, of course, for certain demographics there are even more, female adolescent students, for instance perhaps have several factors to contend with that a middle-aged male in a steady job may not. Nevertheless, developmental, hormonal and socioeconomic effects aside, there is always the possibility that mood might be affected by dietary factors. There is some evidence, for instance, that a deficiency in the trace element zinc might come into play for some people.

Moody teens

Zinc is an essential micronutrient in humans and is found in more than 300 metalloenzymes and in many more in other living things. It acts as a structural agent in transcription factors and is stored and transferred in metallothionein proteins, second most abundant metal to iron. In humans, specifically, its roles are diverse and ubiquitous given that the metal ion interacts with many different biochemical ligands and is involved in the metabolism of RNA and DNA, signal transduction, gene expression, and programmed cell death, apoptosis. Moreover, estimates suggest that zinc can putatively bind to one in ten human proteins.

Kobra Tahmasebi, Reza Amani, Sara Moazzen, Zahra Nazari, and Kambiz Ahmadi of the Jundishapur University of Medical Sciences, in Ahvaz, and Seyed-Ali Mostafavi of Tehran University of Medical Sciences, Tehran, Iran, set out to establish whether or not there is a direct the correlation between serum zinc levels and mood disorders in high school female students. They undertook a cross-sectional study with a random sample of 100 representative high school female students. The team had participants complete a 24-hour food recall questionnaire to assess their daily zinc intake and used FAAS to measure precise serum zinc status and thence whether or not the girls had a zinc deficiency.

In parallel with the biochemical measurements, the team estimated the girls' mood and whether or not they were considered to have a mood disorder by calculating the sum of two test scores including Beck's depression inventory (BDI) and hospital anxiety depression scale (HADS) tests. They applied a general linear model (GLM) and Pearson's regression test to analyse the data. As one might anticipate, those participants with normal zinc serum levels had a dietary intake of zinc 2.2 milligrams per day more than the girls with a deficiency. But, from the mood perspective, the serum zinc levels were telling, the team reports, "inversely correlated with BDI and HADS scores". They add in their paper published in the aptly named journal Biological Trace Elements Research that for every 10 microgram per decilitre increment in serum zinc concentration there was a 0.3 and 0.01 drop in depression and anxiety scores, respectively.

"Serum zinc levels were inversely correlated with mood disorders including depression and anxiety in adolescent female students," the team concludes. They suggest that increasing serum levels of zinc through dietary supplementation might thus reduce the symptoms of mood disorders in female students.

Mood swings

It is perhaps worth pointing out that it is probably quite difficult to achieve significant zinc deficiency if a person has a reasonably balanced diet, zinc is found in meat, fish, shellfish, chicken and other fowl, eggs, dairy, as well as wholegrain wheat, sesame, poppy, alfalfa, celery, mustard, pumpkin, and sunflower seeds, beans, nuts, almonds, blackcurrants and many other foods. "In the small town where we conducted the study, there was just one vocational female high school and the city was in zinc deficiency rank in the country," Amani told SpectroscopyNOW. "More participants are certainly needed to obtain stronger results. Our work, therefore, could be regarded as a pilot study. Besides, we randomly selected a quarter of the total students." It is worth noting that zinc bioavailability is a nutritional concern worldwide.

The team has demonstrated a statistically significant correlation and taken into account the various confounding factors, such as educational and hormonol pressures in this group. Wider studies are now needed to extend the investigation to provide still stronger evidence of a link between low zinc levels and mood.

Related Links

Biol Trace Elem Res 2017, online: "Association of Mood Disorders with Serum Zinc Concentrations in Adolescent Female Students"

Article by David Bradley

The views represented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of John Wiley and Sons, Ltd.

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