If you have ever taken a multivitamin, you may have seen zinc on the label along with many other micronutrients, such as vitamin D, vitamin C, or calcium. But what is zinc and why do we see it included with those other nutrients?
What is Zinc?
Zinc is an essential micronutrient, found in a variety of animal and plant foods, that plays a surprisingly important role in our health. It is considered an essential trace mineral because our body is unable to make it on its own or store it.
Because of this, it’s important to get a consistent amount from our diet daily, with the recommended intake of about 8 mg for women and 11mg for men over the age of 19 years old .
Zinc acts as an antioxidant and plays an essential role in our immune function, metabolism, growth and development, fertility, and more.
You may have heard of people taking zinc supplements if they are experiencing cold symptoms to help boost immunity. You may also see topical zinc, which can help with wound healing for skin conditions such as rash or sunburn .
Although most people get adequate amounts of zinc within their diet, it’s still important to make sure you are getting enough.
Let’s look at some of the impressive, science-backed health benefits of zinc.
Health Benefits of Zinc
Zinc has been studied extensively for its role in immunity and has been found to affect multiple aspects of our immune system. This is because zinc is an essential nutrient in the functioning of our cells, including vital immune cells such as neutrophils, natural killer cells, and T and B Lymphocytes .
Zinc’s effects on our immune function extend through multiple aspects of our immune health, including its well-known ability to aid in reducing symptoms of the common cold.
A 2017 review of several studies, including nearly 600 participants, showed that increased intake of zinc, up to 92mg daily, may aid in reducing the length of cold symptoms by over 30% .
Antioxidant and Anti-Inflammatory Properties
Zinc is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent that has been shown to help reduce various age-related diseases, such as macular degeneration and infection, in older adults.
Zinc has even been shown to provide cardioprotective effects when supplemented in this population due to its anti-inflammatory properties .
A randomized placebo-controlled trial conducted in Detroit, Michigan on 50 elderly adults showed supplementation of 45mg of zinc daily for 12 months decreased infection rates by over 60% .
Another similar study on 40 elderly adults showed taking 45mg of zinc daily for 6 months provided a greater reduction in inflammatory markers than the placebo group .
Among its many functions, zinc has also been studied for its role in fertility. In men, zinc is essential in the formation of sperm. Few studies have found a link between zinc deficiency and low sperm quality in men however, further research is warranted as recent studies have found conflicting results .
Zinc deficiency in women has shown an increase in time trying to conceive and supplementation is often recommended during this period.
A cohort study involving 1060 Australian women showed those with the lowest serum zinc levels took an average of 0.6 months longer to conceive than those with adequate levels .
Treatment of Acne
Those who have experienced acne in their teens and early adulthood, know the detrimental effects it can have on self-esteem. Topical and oral zinc help treat acne breakouts by reducing inflammation and suppressing bacterial growth. Some studies have even found a link between those with lower levels of serum zinc being at higher risk for developing acne [9, 10].
Zinc plays a major role in every phase of wound healing. It is essential in the synthesis of collagen, a protein that acts as one of the main components of connective tissue as well as the mediation of inflammation and immune function .
Zinc has significant beneficial effects on wound healing, specifically for burns, ulcers, and other forms of skin injury, and can help speed up recovery time and healing according to several studies. Topical zinc has been shown effective for less severe skin conditions, such as sunburn or diaper rash [11, 1].
Best Food Sources of Zinc
If you are looking to include more zinc-rich foods in your diet, you have many options to choose from. You can find zinc in many animal and plant foods as well as foods, such as breakfast cereals, that have been fortified with zinc. Below are some common foods high in zinc levels.
- Shellfish (oysters and crab)
- Whole grains
- Fortified breakfast cereal
Those who feel they do not get enough zinc-rich foods in their diet should consider a multivitamin that contains zinc, such as our men's or women’s multivitamin. This supplement contains 15mg of zinc per 2-capsule serving.
How Much Zinc is Too Much?
Although zinc toxicity is rare, excessive intake of zinc can reduce the absorption of other valuable nutrients, including iron and copper, which can lead to deficiency.
Excessive intake of zinc can also result in unfavorable symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, and loss of appetite .
Do not consume a high intake of zinc unless otherwise instructed by your physician.
Those without a zinc deficiency do not want to consume more than 40mg of zinc daily.
Those who are struggling with zinc deficiency may go above this amount under the supervision of their health care provider.
Zinc is an incredibly valuable, and often underrated nutrient that performs a myriad of essential functions in our body. Most can get adequate amounts of zinc through diet alone by choosing a variety of meat, seafood, whole grains, and nuts.
Those who struggle with getting zinc in their diet should look for a supplement that includes at least the recommended 8-11mg of zinc per serving. Those who suspect they may have a zinc deficiency should consult their physician.