What To Know About Zinc Supplements

You may have heard about zinc's role in supporting immunity and might wonder if you should take a zinc supplement. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends that you get your zinc from food rather than a bottle. And there are important reasons behind that advice. Here's what to know about zinc supplements and some of zinc's additional benefits and top food sources.

Dietary supplements are minimally regulated by the FDA and may or may not be suitable for you. The effects of supplements vary from person to person and depend on many variables, including type, dosage, frequency of use, and interactions with current medications. Please speak with your healthcare provider or pharmacist before starting any supplements.

Health Benefits of Zinc

In addition to supporting the immune system, zinc is required for the activity of more than 300 enzymes. Those enzymes aid with a range of essential aspects of your health, like: 

  • Healthy digestion 
  • Nerve function
  • Metabolism

Zinc also supports brain health. Per a review published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, changes in the brain's zinc balance might affect age-related cognitive decline, depression, and Alzheimer's disease.

Another of zinc's significant roles is helping the body heal. Zinc aids with cell membrane repair, cell growth, and the maintenance of healthy skin. Zinc-dependent proteins play fundamental roles within cells, including in DNA repair, according to a review published in the journal Nutrients.

Zinc in Your Diet

Zinc is readily found in both animal and plant-based foods. Some of the top animal sources include: 

  • Oysters
  • Beef 
  • Blue crab
  • Pork 
  • Turkey breast
  • Shrimp
  • Sardines
  • Fish
  • Greek yogurt
  • Milk
  • Eggs

And even vegetarians and vegans can eat enough zinc. Adult vegetarians have zinc intakes within the normal range. In addition, an adult's body can adapt to a vegetarian diet in ways that help optimize zinc status, including increased absorption and retention of zinc.

Some plant sources of zinc include:

  • Breakfast cereals
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Lentils
  • Peanuts
  • Rice
  • Kidney beans
  • Whole-wheat bread
  • Broccoli
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Blueberries

You can easily obtain the daily recommended value of zinc through a normal, balanced diet. The daily recommended values for zinc depend on the person, including:

  • Eleven milligrams for men aged 14 and older
  • Eight milligrams for women aged 19 and older and nine milligrams per day for women aged 14 to 18
  • Eleven milligrams for pregnant people and 12 milligrams if you're breastfeeding
  • Eight milligrams for children aged nine to 13
  • Five milligrams for children aged four to eight
  • Three milligrams for children aged seven months to three years
  • Two milligrams for babies up to six months

If You Have a Deficiency

A zinc deficiency may manifest itself in several ways. For instance, symptoms may include skin problems and impaired wound healing, per the Nutrients review.

Also, too little zinc can negatively impact your senses and appetite. According to a review published by the Consultant Pharmacist, 35% to 45% of adults 60 and older have zinc intakes below the estimated average requirement. Zinc deficiency's side effects involve diminished taste, smell, and poor appetite.

Studies have also shown that zinc deficiency increases cell damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are harmful substances that increase your risk of premature aging and chronic diseases. 

According to a study published in Frontiers in Nutrition, zinc reduces blood markers for inflammation, a known trigger of premature aging and chronic diseases.

Risk factors for zinc deficiency include: 

  • Sickle cell disease
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) disease 
  • A history of bariatric surgery—a type of weight loss surgery
  • A vegan diet that's heavy in legumes and whole grains 

If you meet any of those risk factors, your healthcare provider may follow up with questions about your symptoms or order testing.

Should You Take Supplements?

If a healthcare provider recommends zinc supplements, you can work with them to select the best form and dose for you. And since zinc can interact with certain medications, medical conditions, and other supplements, you might need to adjust the quantity.

Numerous zinc supplements include zinc gluconate, picolinate, acetate, and citrate. Zinc also exists in various forms, from lozenges and capsules to drops.

Still, the NIH does not recommend getting your daily recommended value of zinc by taking supplements. Instead, try to meet your zinc requirements through your diet. 

Additionally, obtaining your zinc through food can broaden your overall nutrient intake. Zinc-containing foods offer other vital nutrients, including protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals, and health-protective antioxidants. 

Getting your zinc solely through your diet also reduces the potential risks of taking too much zinc in supplement form.

Risks of Excess Zinc

The tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) for zinc, which includes both foods and supplements combined, is 40 milligrams per day for all adults 19 and older. 

A long-term intake above that amount increases your risk of adverse health effects unless your healthcare provider prescribes zinc supplements and monitors for a specific medical condition.

Excess zinc can trigger adverse effects, including:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Headaches
  • Altered copper and iron function
  • Weakened immunity
  • Low HDL—the "good," cholesterol

So, keep in mind that more zinc isn't necessarily better. If your healthcare provider recommends a zinc supplement, ask about the dose, form, frequency, length of use, and when and how to take it.

Zinc for Colds

Due to zinc's impact on immunity, many people turn to the mineral for the short term to combat common colds. But the research on zinc's effect on the common cold has been mixed.

For example, a study published in 2017 in Open Forum Infectious Diseases found that people with a common cold who took zinc lozenges recovered faster than those who did not. After five days, 70% of the people who took zinc had recovered compared with 27% of people who took placebos.

However, another study published in Pharmacology and Therapeutics found that zinc acetate lozenges had no impact on the recovery rate of people with a common cold. 

So, if you try zinc when you feel a cold coming on, consult your healthcare provider about the form, dose, and length of use.

A Quick Review

Zinc is one of the essential nutrients for optimal wellness, and striking the right balance is vital for reaping its benefits.

So, focus on food sources to benefit from zinc without going overboard. If you're an omnivore, aim for various plant and animal foods. And if you're plant-based, zero in on top plant sources and incorporate them often.

If you're concerned about not getting enough zinc from your regular diet due to health issues, food preferences, or dietary restrictions, talk to a healthcare provider about whether zinc supplements might be appropriate.

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8 Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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