Did you know that zinc is the second most abundant trace mineral in the body after iron? (32)(38)

Zinc is an essential nutrient, meaning the human body cannot produce this trace mineral on its own. Therefore, assuring adequate consumption of zinc is vital to support several bodily functions. Zinc plays an essential role in immune, skin, and eye health, and it is necessary for cellular metabolism, protein and DNA synthesis, and growth and development during pregnancy, childhood, and adolescence. (7)(26)

Zinc is naturally found in many different foods and is also available as a dietary supplement. Continue reading below to learn more about the benefits and top dietary sources of zinc.

Two woman helping elderly woman down the street

Zinc is known to strengthen the immune system in individuals of all ages.

Zinc benefits

Zinc plays an important role in immune health, growth and development, skin health, and more!

Immune support

If the body does not receive adequate amounts of zinc, the immune system cannot properly fight off infections and diseases. Insufficient levels of zinc in the body have been shown to impair the production and activation of T lymphocytes (T cells), which are cells created in the bone marrow that assist in protecting the immune system from infections and diseases. As a result, research has associated low levels of zinc with an increased risk of pneumonia, diarrhea, and other infectious diseases. (4)(15)(20)(35)(38)

In addition to preventing deficiency, zinc supplementation is commonly used to address seasonal illness, such as the common cold. A meta-analysis examining the results of three randomized placebo-controlled trials concluded that zinc acetate lozenges when administered to individuals with the common cold reduced the duration of illness by almost three days. (18)

Growth and development

Zinc deficiency affects millions of infants and children in both industrial and developing countries and can negatively impact growth and development. Zinc deficiency has been linked to low immune function, poor motor and cognitive development, behavioral problems, and reduced academic achievement. (5)(6)

A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials published in the The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition examined the effects of zinc supplementation in growth of children. Zinc supplementation was shown to improve height and weight, particularly in children with low weight and height for their age. (9)

Skin health

Zinc is a well-known treatment for acne in the dermatological field. Depending on the severity of the acne, zinc can be used in oral or topical form to assist in the reduction of acne and scarring. (1)(10)(28) One double-masked study showed that using a 1.2% zinc acetate solution with 4% erythromycin provides significant clearance of acne. (33)

Wound healing

Zinc is involved in wound healing by assisting in the repair of mucosal membranes, supporting the integrity of the skin, fighting inflammation and infection, and promoting faster healing. (19)

A placebo-controlled, randomized, double-masked trial was conducted in 60 individuals with a diabetic foot ulcer (grade three) between the ages of 40 to 85 over a 12-week period. Half of the participants took a supplement containing 220 mg of zinc sulfate and the other half received a placebo. After the 12 weeks were concluded, the results confirmed a significant reduction in ulcer size and metabolic profile in the zinc group compared to the placebo group. (22)

Eye health

Supplementation of zinc may also slow the rate of age-related macular degeneration (ARMD), the leading cause of vision loss, affecting roughly 170 million people worldwide. (24)(25)(36)

A 2014 study was conducted on 72 random individuals in different stages of ARMD given 50 mg of zinc sulfate on a daily basis for three months. The concluding results showed that zinc supplementation appeared to slow disease progression. (36)

How much zinc do you need?

The recommended dosage for daily zinc intake varies based on age, sex, and life stage. Provided below are the recommended daily allowances (RDAs) for zinc, which can be used as a guideline for regular daily consumption. (11) If you are experiencing a health issue or have signs of deficiency, your healthcare practitioner might suggest a higher dose for a period of time.

Talk to your healthcare practitioner to determine how much zinc you need. (11)

Zinc deficiency

As previously mentioned, an insufficiency of zinc can increase susceptibility to infections and diseases. (17) (27) (38) Individuals following vegetarian or vegan diets or those who suffer from inflammatory bowel disease, malnutrition, malabsorption, and alcoholism are at increased risk of developing a zinc deficiency. (8)(32)

A deficiency in zinc can affect immune, central nervous, gastrointestinal, and epidermal function. Zinc deficiency symptoms may include:

  • Behavioral issues
  • Decreased growth and development
  • Decreased immunity
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased inflammation
  • Nail dystrophy (deformation and discoloration)
  • Skin rashes
  • Slow wound healing
    (23)(27)(32)

Did you know? Roughly two billion people worldwide are deficient in zinc. (38)

Zinc toxicity side effects

Exceeding the tolerable upper intake level (UL) may result when taking zinc supplements for longer than suggested. Side effects of acute and chronic zinc toxicity include:

Top 4 foods high in zinc

Zinc can be obtained from a variety of food sources. Outlined below are the top four dietary sources of zinc.

Woman pouring nuts into her hand

Shellfish, meat, nuts, and legumes are among the top zinc-rich foods.

Shellfish

  • Oysters, 3 oz: 74 mg per serving
  • Alaskan king crab, 3 oz, cooked: 6.5 mg per serving
  • Lobster, 3 oz, cooked: 3.4 mg per serving
    (2)(16)(24)(29)

Meat and poultry

  • Beef chuck roast, 3 oz, braised: 7 mg per serving
  • Beef patty, 3 oz, broiled: 5.3 mg per serving
  • Pork loin chops, 3 oz, cooked: 2.9 mg per serving
  • Dark meat chicken, 3 oz, cooked: 2.4 mg per serving
    (2)(16)(24)

Nuts and seeds

  • Hemp seeds, 1 oz: 3 mg of zinc per serving
  • Pumpkin seeds, 1 oz, dried: 2.2 mg per serving
  • Cashews, 1 oz, dry roasted: 1.6 mg per serving
  • Almonds, 1 oz, dry roasted: 0.9 mg per serving
    (2)(21)(24)

Legumes

  • Baked beans, half cup, canned/plain/vegetarian: 2.9 mg per serving
  • Chickpeas, half cup cooked: 1.3 mg zinc per serving
  • Kidney beans, half cup, cooked: 0.9 mg per serving
    (2)(24)(31)

Types of zinc supplements

Zinc supplements, commonly used by individuals who don’t obtain enough zinc in their diet or have increased nutritional needs, can be found in several forms, including zinc:

  • Acetate
  • Aspartate
  • Citrate
  • Gluconate
  • Methionine
  • Orotate
  • Oxide
  • Picolinate
  • Sulfate (13)(16)

The forms of zinc that have been shown to be better absorbed in the body are zinc picolinate, zinc acetate, zinc gluconate, and zinc citrate. (3)(30)(37)

Zinc supplements may also be found in chelated form. Chelating agents are chemical compounds that attach to metal ions and create a water-soluble product, which may improve absorption of the nutrient in the body. (14)

If you’re a patient, speak to your healthcare practitioner to determine the best zinc supplement for your treatment plan. Zinc supplements come in several delivery formats, such as capsules, tablets, powder, liquid, and lozenges.

The bottom line

Zinc is an essential trace mineral that is involved in numerous bodily functions, including cellular metabolism, immune function, wound healing, and protein and DNA synthesis. Consuming a varied diet that includes zinc-rich foods, such as shellfish, meats, nuts, and legumes, is the best way to ensure you are receiving enough of this essential nutrient. If you are concerned that you may not be getting an adequate amount of zinc through your diet, consider talking to your healthcare practitioner for guidance on how much zinc per day you require and the ways in which you can meet your intake goals.

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