The Health Benefits of Zinc

The Health Benefits of Zinc


Introduction & Biological Role

Zinc is an essential, trace mineral found in every cell in our body. It is the second most common mineral behind iron. Zinc is known to play a role in the immune system, reproduction, growth, taste, vision, smell, blood clot formation, insulin and thyroid function. Zinc also has antioxidant properties protecting the body from dangerous free radicals.

Health Benefits/ Uses


There is mixed evidence on whether zinc actually helps treat or prevent acne. Some studies show benefit, others do not. Some studies found high doses could have toxic side effects. It may help as an adjunct for other topical treatments such as antibiotics. Talk to your doctor or dermatologist about it.

Diabetes Mellitus

Moderate zinc deficiency is common in diabetics. Studies are mixed on the role of zinc supplementation in managing blood sugar and insulin sensitivity in individuals with diabetes. Research is ongoing  and more information needs to be gathered before formal recommendations can be given.

Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Macular degeneration is blurred or loss of vision in the center of the visual field that can happen as we age. A rather large study found that zinc supplementation (along with vitamin C, vitamin E, beta carotene and copper) slowed the progression of macular degeneration. It required a large dose of 80 mg however, which may be too much to safely consume daily.


Studies are mixed whether zinc can prevent the development of a cold or reduce the duration of symptoms. One study found that zinc lozenges reduced the duration of coughing, runny nose and sore throat compared to a placebo. There is a zinc nasal spray as well, but this can be associated with changes in smell and is not advised. Oral zinc supplements have also been shown to lower the risk of pneumonia and reduce the use of antibiotics in nursing home patients. The exact dosage and which kind formulation of zinc are best still need to be studied.

Sickle Cell Disease

Folks with sickle cell disease have been found to have low levels of zinc. Supplementation may reduce the symptoms of the disease. Children who supplemented zinc showed improvements in height, weight and had fewer crises.

Stomach Ulcers

Some studies have shown that zinc supplementation can help speed the healing of stomach ulcers.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

There is some evidence to suggest that zinc supplementation can reduce the symptoms of ADHD. Specifically, it can help improve hyperactivity, impulsivity and impaired socialization but not with attention deficit symptoms. It is unclear which children will benefit from zinc, but researchers suggest children with high body mass index, low levels of free fatty acids  in their blood and obviously those with low zinc levels.

Cold Sores (Herpes Simplex)

Several studies have demonstrated that placing zinc cream on cold sores every two hours caused them to heal faster and cause fewer symptoms compared to a placebo.

Wilson’s Disease

This disease is characterized by your body’s inability to properly regulate copper metabolism and subsequently have abnormal copper levels deposited in various parts of the body. Zinc can reduce copper absorption and your doctor might recommend zinc supplementation if you have wilson’s disease.

Wound Healing

Topical zinc is a common treatment by health professionals for chronic leg ulcers. In folks with zinc deficiency, this appears to help. In individuals with normal zinc levels, the evidence does not show any benefit.


Deficiency is rare in modernized nations. It can be seen in the elderly, alcoholics, anorexia, restricted diets and folks with gastrointestinal malabsorption issues.

Symptoms include loss of appetite, poor growth, weight loss, loss of taste or smell, poor wound healing, skin problems, hair loss, night blindness, change in menstrual cycle, depression.


Toxicity is most likely to occur from ingesting too much zinc and comes in both acute and chronic forms.

  • Acute: nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and headaches
  • Chronic: low copper status, altered iron function, reduced immune function, and reduced levels of high-density lipoproteins


The best sources of zinc are oysters (richest source), red meats, poultry, cheese (ricotta, Swiss, gouda), shrimp, crab, and other shellfish.

Top 10 sources

  1. Oysters (74 mg, 493%)
  2. Beef (7 mg, 47%)
  3. Crab (6.5 mg, 43%)
  4. Fortified Cereal (3.6 mg, 25%)
  5. Lobster (3.4 mg, 23%)
  6. Pork Chop (2.9 mg, 19%)
  7. Baked beans (2.9 mg, 19%)
  8. Chicken (2.4 mg, 16%)
  9. Yogurt (1.7 mg, 11%)
  10. Cashews (1.6 mg, 11%)

In supplement, zinc is available in several forms which I won’t repeat but are listed here:  Zinc sulfate, zinc picolinate, zinc citrate, zinc acetate, zinc glycerate, and zinc monomethionine.

Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA)

The RDA in adult men is 11 mg/day, in women it is 8 mg/day.

  • Pregnant women: 11 mg/day
  • Breastfeeding women 12 mg/day

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