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Zinc is a nutrient that plays many vital roles in your body.
Because your body doesn’t naturally produce zinc, you must obtain it through food or supplements.

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Zinc is a mineral. It is called an "essential trace element" because very small amounts of zinc are necessary for human health. Since the human body does not store excess zinc, it must be consumed regularly as part of the diet. Common dietary sources of zinc include red meat, poultry, and fish. Zinc deficiency can cause short stature, reduced ability to taste food, and the inability of testes and ovaries to function properly.
Zinc is used for the treatment and prevention of zinc deficiency and its consequences, including stunted growth and acute diarrhea in children, slow wound healing, slow recovery and Wilson's disease. Zinc is also used for many other conditions.

What Is Zinc?

Zinc is considered an essential nutrient, meaning that your body can’t produce or store it.
For this reason, you must get a constant supply through your diet.
Zinc is required for numerous processes in your body, including:

Zinc is naturally found in a wide variety of both plant and animal foods.
Foods that don’t naturally contain this mineral, such as breakfast cereals, snack bars and baking flour, are often fortified with synthetic forms of zinc.
You can also take zinc supplements or multi-nutrient supplements that provide zinc.

Because of its role in immune function, zinc is likewise added to some nasal sprays, lozenges, and other natural cold treatments.

Man blowing his nose.

Role in Your Body

Zinc is a vital mineral that your body uses in countless ways.
In fact, zinc is the second-most-abundant trace mineral in your body — after iron — and is present in every cell.
Zinc is necessary for the activity of over 300 enzymes that aid in metabolism, digestion, nerve function, and many other processes.
In addition, it’s critical for the development and function of immune cells.
This mineral is also fundamental to skin health, DNA synthesis, and protein production.

What’s more, body growth and development rely on zinc because of its role in cell growth and division.

Zinc is also needed for your senses of taste and smell. Because one of the enzymes crucial for proper taste and smell is dependent on this nutrient, a zinc deficiency can reduce your ability to taste or smell.

Possible benefits of using Zinc
Zinc is crucial for various functions in the body, including:

1. Immune function

The body needs zinc for the immune system to work properly. Low levels of zinc can increase the risk of infections, such as pneumonia.


2. Treating diarrhea

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends zinc supplements for infants with diarrhea.
There is evidence that it can shorten bouts of diarrhea, especially in those who do not have a nutritious diet.
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3. Wound healing

Zinc plays a role in maintaining healthy skin.
People with long-term wounds or ulcers often have low zinc levels. Healthcare professionals may recommend zinc supplements for people with persistent wounds.

Research from 2018 notes that zinc plays a key role in every stage of wound healing, from skin repair to preventing infections. The authors call for more studies to identify precisely how zinc works in healing wounds. This, they say, could lead to new treatments for wounds that are hard to heal.


4. Chronic disease

Zinc has antioxidant properties. As such, it can help reduce oxidative stress. Scientists believe that there is a link between oxidative stress and chronic diseases, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and other aspects of metabolic syndrome.

Research from 2018 suggests that zinc may help prevent metabolic syndrome. They recommend further studies to identify how zinc affects health and to see whether supplementation might be useful as a therapy.


5. Age-related macular degeneration

Zinc prevents cell damage in the retina, and it may help delay the progression of age-related macular degeneration and vision loss, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). However, it is unlikely to prevent degeneration.
The authors of research from 2020 have found that a zinc deficiency may play a role in developing this degeneration. They call for further studies and suggest that zinc might contribute to new treatment approaches.
Overall, some studies suggest that supplementation may help, but the evidence is not conclusive.


6. Sexual health

Low zinc levels may lead to delayed sexual development, fertility problems, and other sexual health issues in males.
The authors of research from 2018 describe zinc as essential to male sexual health. Reasons for this could include zinc’s role as an antioxidant and hormone balancer.

However, while a zinc deficiency can have a negative impact, too much zinc may lead to toxicity, which could be harmful to sperm.
Anyone considering zinc supplements to support their sexual health should speak with a doctor.

There is some evidence that zinc may help treat some skin diseases, as it plays a role in wound healing.
Research suggests that zinc may help treat:

  • acne vulgaris
  • hidradenitis suppurativa
  • atopic dermatitis
  • diaper dermatitis
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8. Osteoporosis

Zinc plays an essential role in bone formation and health and may help prevent osteoporosis, according to research from 2020.
However, it remains unclear whether zinc supplementation can prevent or treat this condition, and further research is necessary.

Elderly couple sitting and looking at the landscape.

9. Neurological symptoms

A small study from 2020 concluded that there may be a link between low zinc levels and neurological symptoms.
Researchers looked at 63 people who had headaches, tingling, and peripheral neuropathy, as well as deficiencies in zinc and other micronutrients.
After treatment for these deficiencies, the participants reported improvements in their neurological symptoms. However, the researchers acknowledge the need for further research.


10. The common cold

A review of studies from 2011 suggests that zinc lozenges may help shorten the duration of the common cold but only with daily doses of over 75 milligrams (mg).

On the whole, studies looking at the use of zinc for colds have been of poor quality. There is no reliable evidence that taking zinc prevents colds.
Also, they warn that zinc can affect the sense of smell. Speak with a doctor before using nasal sprays or gels that contain zinc, as the damage may be long-term or permanent.

11. Learning and memory

Some research in rodents suggests that zinc may boost cognitive function. In rats that received zinc supplements performed better in tasks that involved thinking and memory.

There does not appear to be sufficient evidence that zinc can improve memory or learning in humans, however

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Deficiency Symptoms

Although severe zinc deficiency is rare, it can occur in people with rare genetic mutations, breastfeeding infants whose mothers don’t have enough zinc, people with alcohol addictions, and anyone taking certain immune-suppressing medications.

Symptoms of severe zinc deficiency include impaired growth and development, delayed sexual maturity, skin rashes, chronic diarrhea, impaired wound healing, and behavioral issues.

Milder forms of zinc deficiency are more common, especially in children in developing countries where diets are often lacking in important nutrients.
It is estimated that around 2 billion people worldwide are deficient in zinc due to inadequate dietary intake.

Since zinc deficiency impairs your immune system — increasing the chances of infection — zinc deficiency is thought to cause over 450,000 deaths in children under 5 every year.

Those at risk of zinc deficiency include:

  • People with gastrointestinal diseases like Crohn’s disease
  • Vegetarians and vegans
  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women
  • Older infants who are exclusively breastfed
  • People with sickle cell anemia
  • People who are malnourished, including those with anorexia or bulimia
  • People with chronic kidney disease
  • Those who abuse alcohol

Symptoms of mild zinc deficiency include diarrhea, decreased immunity, thinning hair, decreased appetite, mood disturbances, dry skin, fertility issues, and impaired wound healing.

Zinc deficiency is difficult to detect using laboratory tests due to your body’s tight control over zinc levels. Thus, you may still be deficient even if tests indicate normal levels.

Doctors consider other risk factors — such as poor dietary intake and genetics — alongside blood results when determining whether you need supplements.

Fish and Shellfish.

Food Sources

Many animal and plant foods are naturally rich in zinc, making it easy for most people to consume adequate amounts.
Foods highest in zinc include:
  • Shellfish: Oysters, crab, mussels, lobster, and clams
  • Meat: Beef, pork, lamb, and bison
  • Poultry: Turkey and chicken
  • Fish: Flounder, sardines, salmon, and sole
  • Legumes: Chickpeas, lentils, black beans, kidney beans, etc.
  • Nuts and seeds: Pumpkin seeds, cashews, hemp seeds, etc.
  • Dairy products: Milk, yogurt, and cheese
  • Eggs
  • Whole grains: Oats, quinoa, brown rice, etc.
  • Certain vegetables: Mushrooms, kale, peas, asparagus, and beet greens
Animal products, such as meat and shellfish, contain high amounts of zinc in a form that your body easily absorbs.
Keep in mind that zinc found in plant-based sources like legumes and whole grains is absorbed less efficiently because of other plant compounds that inhibit absorption.

Toxicity and Dosage Recommendations

Just as a deficiency in zinc can cause health complications, excessive intake can also lead to negative side effects.
deficiency in Zinc is not good because it can cause health complications, but also excessive intake can lead to negative side effects.
The most common cause of zinc toxicity is too much supplemental zinc, which can cause both acute and chronic symptoms.
Symptoms of toxicity include:

Ingesting too much zinc can also cause deficiencies in other nutrients.
For example, chronic high zinc ingestion can interfere with your absorption of copper and iron.

Reductions in copper levels have even been reported in people consuming only moderately high doses of zinc — 60 mg per day — for 10 weeks.

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Recommended Dosages

To avoid overconsumption, stay away from high-dose zinc supplements unless recommended by a doctor.
The recommended daily intake (RDI) is 11 mg for adult men and 8 mg for adult women.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women should consume 11 and 12 mg per day, respectively.
Unless a medical condition is hindering absorption, you should easily reach the RDI for zinc through diet alone.

The tolerable upper level for zinc is 40 mg per day. However, this does not apply to people with zinc deficiencies, who may need to take high-dose supplements.
If you take supplements, choose absorbable forms such as zinc citrate or zinc gluconate. Stay away from zinc oxide, which is poorly absorbed.

The Bottom Line

Zinc is needed for DNA synthesis, immune function, metabolism, and growth.
It may reduce inflammation and your risk of some age-related diseases.
Most people meet the RDI of 11 mg for men and 8 mg for women through diet, but older adults and people with diseases that inhibit zinc absorption may need to supplement.

Because high-dose zinc supplements can lead to dangerous side effects, it’s important to stick to recommendations and only take supplements when necessary.

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