There’s a mineral your body needs to fight off disease, keep your metabolism on track, maintain your heart health and help you heal from injury. But there’s a good chance you’re one of a billion people worldwide (17 percent of the population) that don’t have enough of this nutrient.

A blood test makes it relatively easy to tell if you’re very, very low in this mineral. However, if you’re moderately deficient – but still deficient enough to compromise your health – the blood test is worthless. And don’t bother asking your doctor about it. Because there’s no reliable, approved way to measure your status.

That may be about to change. Here’s what you need to know…

During the past few years, researchers have uncovered many new details about how the body uses zinc but have not come up with a reliable test for revealing a person’s levels of this important mineral.

That’s why the World Health Organization (WHO) put out a call for researchers to create a dependable test to figure out if people are zinc deficient.

Recently, a team of scientists at Cornell and the University of Connecticut have come up with a comprehensive test they say can pinpoint a person’s level of zinc.

Measuring Zinc Levels is Harder than You’d think

The work on this test hasn’t been easy. Cornell researcher Elad Tako, PhD, explains, saying, “Because of the complexity and sophistication of zinc metabolism, it is very difficult to accurately measure zinc status.”

But Dr. Tako and his colleagues have devised a three-step analysis that they say can reveal if you’re consuming enough zinc for optimal health. “This research presents a significant advancement in the field of zinc nutrition and the associated physiological status,” says Jacquelyn Cheng who has taken part in this research.

This Zinc Status Index (ZSI) test involves analyzing:

  • Fatty acid ratios: The body’s ratio of linolenic acid (a fatty acid) to dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid (another fatty acid). These fatty acids can be measured in a blood test. The ratio of the two fatty acids changes when the body doesn’t have enough zinc to form important enzymes.
  • Gene expression of proteins: The body’s gene expression of zinc dependent proteins. The cells in the body need zinc to make sufficient quantities of these important proteins.
  • Probiotic bacteria: The probiotic bacteria that are living in the intestinal tract. The types of bacteria in the gut shift when there’s not enough zinc available.

Why is the ZSI test so important? Because zinc is critical to your health and longevity.

A Lack of Zinc Means a Lack of Health

In other recent studies of the role of zinc in the body, researchers have discovered new ways that a lack of this mineral can impair your well-being. For example:

  • Low levels of zinc are linked to high blood pressure: A study involving the University of Melbourne in Australia and the University of Vermont demonstrates that zinc affects sensory nerves and the muscles in the walls of arteries in processes that control blood pressure. They found that zinc makes blood vessels relax. That lowers blood pressure and increases blood flow. They also discovered that the blood vessels in the heart and brain are the most sensitive to the ups and downs of zinc in your body.
  • Zinc deficiency may be linked to the development of autism: Researchers at Stanford have found that the synapses between brain cells that form when we’re young may be altered by a lack of zinc that increases the risk for autism. They say they don’t know if zinc supplementation can help with this problem, but they conclude that “a lack of zinc during early development might contribute to autism through impaired synaptic maturation and neuronal circuit formation.”
  • Dropping zinc levels leave the heart more vulnerable to damage from oxidative stress: Lab tests at the Technical University of Munich in Germany reveal that the heart muscle needs relatively large amounts of zinc to defend against harmful free radicals. Without adequate zinc, it can falter and malfunction.

Increasing Your Levels of Zinc

If you want to add more zinc to your diet, foods relatively high in zinc include nuts, meat, shellfish, legumes (lentils and beans), dairy foods and whole grains. If you choose supplements experts caution not to take more than 40 mg of zinc per day.

As for the ZSI test, it’s not approved yet by any health agency, but researchers hope the analysis will be available to the public soon. When this groundbreaking new Cornell test for evaluating blood levels of zinc becomes available, I’ll be the first to let you know.