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Zinc Deficiency & Behavior Problems in Children

by Melody Causewell, studioD

According to the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition", zinc deficiency is a common problem in childhood because of the lack of foods containing bioavailable zinc. Due to the widespread nature of the problem, it is important to recognize signs of zinc deficiency so it can be remedied accordingly. Zinc deficiency may cause irritability in infants, impaired neuropsychological function, depression and ADHD symptoms in children.

Infant Crying Behaviors

Research in the "Journal of Nutrition" found that after seven months of zinc supplementation, infants had lower levels of crying and whining and sat more frequently than their counterparts who received placebos. According to MedlinePlus, zinc deficiency can cause stomach issues such as diarrhea, so it is possible that the reduction in irritability is related to physical comfort. Though the specific causes for this decrease in crying behavior are unclear, adequate zinc levels may offer a solution for some irritability factors in infants.

Neuropsychological Function

Research from the "Journal of the American College of Nutrition" reports that zinc and related micronutrients are essential to the neuropsychological capabilities of children. This type of functioning refers to the ability of the brain to process information through the senses and may be of great assistance in areas such as reasoning ability. Children who have difficulty with interpreting their surroundings and responding appropriately may appear to have behavioral issues due to frustration or simple deficits in understanding. Children with impaired neuropsychological functioning may benefit from a dietary evaluation or blood testing to ensure they maintain adequate zinc levels.


Research from the "Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care" reports that not only can zinc deficiency lead to depressive symptoms, but zinc supplementation may be a viable treatment option for depression. According to WebMD, children who are depressed may be irritable or angry in addition to the traditional symptoms of sadness and hopelessness. They may also have outbursts or show signs of fatigue. Zinc supplementation may assist with behavioral issues related to these depressive symptoms.


According to research from the "Journal of the Academy of Medical Sciences of Croatia", fifteen milligrams of zinc per day improved symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in children, leading researchers to cite zinc deficiency as playing a role in the underlying mechanisms of Attention Deficit Disorders. These findings are supported by research in "Acta Paediatrica" which noted significant improvements in the behavior of elementary school children after zinc supplementation. Children with Attention Deficit diagnoses may benefit from testing to determine whether zinc deficiency may be contributing to their behavioral issues.

About the Author

Melody Causewell has been a writer in the mental health field since 2001. She written training manuals and clinical programs for mental health organizations. She has published feature articles "Leaven" magazine and has been published in "Natural Awakenings." She has a degree in psychology, a Masters degree in social work and is a La Leche League leader.

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