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Southern Cross University study investigates zinc-testing methods


Brigid Veale
10 November 2006
A new study by a Southern Cross University student has found the majority of naturopaths use a taste test method to assess zinc deficiencies in their patients.

Rachel Arthur has surveyed naturopaths throughout New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria to determine what tools they use in their practices to assess the zinc status of their patients, and how effective they believe them to be.

Rachel, who is completing her Honours this year and hopes to go on to a PhD next year, received funding for the project from Health World Limited, a leading supplier of natural medicines in Australia and New Zealand.

Zinc is an essential mineral for growth and the functioning of the immune system, as well as for reproductive and digestive function.

“I’m hoping to go on to test the efficacy of those popular methods, but needed to map who was using what techniques and why. The way naturopaths assess nutritional deficiencies is quite different from general medical practitioners and a range of different methods have emerged,” Rachel said.

Having worked and taught as a naturopath for 10 years, Rachel said she was keen to put some of the practices used in the field to the test.

“I’m all for innovation and natural medicine, but at the end of the day the public, and the practitioners, need to know that we are doing all we can to demonstrate the efficacy of what we are using,” she said.

“The culture in general medicine is all evidence based, and I am very much in favour of building our evidence base in naturopathy.”

In her study, which involved practitioners selected at random from throughout the east coast of Australia, she found practitioners assessed patients’ zinc status on average 69 per cent of the time.

“There is a belief among many naturopaths that Australian soils are depleted in zinc and that food, therefore, has a lower than normal zinc content. There has also been a general trend away from meat consumption, and meat is a high source of zinc,” she said.

“A lot of behaviours, such as alcohol consumption and smoking, also deplete zinc.”

In her study, Rachel found 81 per cent of naturopaths used a taste test method to assess zinc deficiency, with 77 per cent believing it to be accurate. She also found there was a 76 per cent correlation between the results of the taste test and other symptoms of zinc deficiency.

“I’m hoping to go on now and test the efficacy of these popular methods. Internationally there’s a lot of discussion in the literature about how to accurately assess zinc deficiency,” she said.

“We want to do a clinical trial to assess people’s zinc levels using a number of orthodox and new methods to see if there is a correlation.”

Photo: Rachel Arthur.