What Is Zinc?
Zinc is a mineral your body needs for many things, including cell division, immune function, wound healing, and more. Your body doesn’t make zinc, so you’ll need to get it from your diet or from supplements.
It’s easy to get enough zinc from a healthy diet. Many foods, including meats and seafood, contain good amounts of zinc, in addition to plant foods high in protein like beans, nuts, and seeds. Whole grains and dairy products also contain zinc.
You should speak to a doctor before taking a zinc supplement. Zinc can decrease the effectiveness of some drugs such as antibiotics, penicillamine (a drug used to treat rheumatoid arthritis), and thiazide diuretics (blood pressure drugs). And oral zinc supplements can cause:
Zinc plays many important roles in your overall health. It’s one of the things that your body needs for:
Zinc is essential so that over 300 enzymes can properly function in the body, and it plays a role in processes like digestion, metabolism, and nerve health.
Child Growth and Cell Division
Zinc has also been found to contribute to improved growth and development in children and plays a crucial role in cell division.
Slowed Progression of Age-Related Macular Degeneration
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is an eye disease. It gradually causes blurred or reduced central vision. This is due to the thinning of the macula. Several large studies have looked at people at high risk for getting age-related macular degeneration who took daily supplements that included zinc. Over 5 years, they were less likely to have AMD than those who didn’t take the supplements. The supplements included zinc and other nutrients.
Researchers have found that if you have late-stage AMD in one eye, supplements called AREDS2 may slow down the worsening of AMD in your other eye. These supplements don’t stop early-stage AMD from progressing into intermediate-stage. Your doctor can help you know if AREDS2 supplements might help. (Note: AREDS2 is not a brand. AREDS is short for “Age-Related Eye Disease Studies.”)
Zinc is a requirement for skin to function normally and to remain healthy. This is why products containing zinc have been used widely to treat skin conditions, including infections, acne, skin ulcers, and other skin disorders.
Zinc is an essential mineral for your immune system. Having too little zinc may increase your risk of a cold, pneumonia, or infection. Zinc helps activate T cells, which control and regulate your immune response and attack and destroy infected cells.
You may have heard that zinc is good when you’ve got a cold. Research suggests that taking a zinc lozenge or syrup within 24 hours of cold symptoms starting can shorten the duration of a cold. But it hasn’t been found to make a cold less miserable – just shorter. It’s not yet clear what the best dose is for that or how long you should take it. Be aware that intranasal zinc (zinc nasal spray) has been linked with a loss of smell that can be permanent.
Your skin holds about 5% of your body’s total zinc content. The mineral plays a role in cell growth, collagen formation, and inflammatory responses, making it essential for proper wound healing.
Oxidative stress, which occurs as a result of free radicals in the body, contributes to increased inflammation in the body. While inflammation is a key part of your body’s defenses, when it lasts too long and becomes chronic, it’s linked to health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and more. Zinc can help decrease oxidative stress and reduce inflammation in the body. But research is needed to know if zinc directly affects the risk of those health conditions.
Foods With Zinc
Zinc is in many foods that are part of a common diet, especially meat and seafood, and also whole grains, beans, and nuts. Here are some food sources of zinc:
Oysters have by far the most zinc of any food, with 74.1 milligrams in a 3-ounce serving of oysters that are cooked, breaded, and fried. That’s 673% of an average daily value.
Another shellfish packed with zinc is crab. One serving of cooked Alaskan king crab (3 ounces) has 6.48 milligrams of zinc, which equates to 59% daily value. Eat plenty of shellfish to get a big dose of your daily zinc intake.
Red meat, especially beef, packs a lot of zinc. A 3-ounce serving of a beef chuck roast gives you 8.44 milligrams of zinc.
Pork chops also offer a lot of iron and zinc to help you round out your diet. A serving of 4 ounces of pork chops contains 2 milligrams of zinc.
In addition to oysters and crab meat, lobster is yet another shellfish that includes plenty of zinc. A 3-ounce serving of cooked lobster has 6.18 milligrams of zinc. Pair your lobster with beans or peas and enjoy this zinc-filled meal.
6. Chickpeas and Other Legumes
Legumes, including beans and nuts, contain significant amounts of zinc. Chickpeas are a great source of this nutrient. One serving of chickpeas (100 grams) contains 1.5 milligrams of zinc, and a half-cup of kidney beans has 0.9 milligrams.
7. Cashews and Other Nuts
Nuts make a great snack throughout the day, and many are great sources of zinc for your daily balanced diet. Cashews, for example, contain 3 milligrams of zinc in just one package, or 50 grams. Cashews are a tasty way to increase your zinc intake throughout the day.
A half-cup of oats provides 1.5 milligrams of zinc. Like legumes, oats (and other whole grains) contain phytates, which can affect how well your body absorbs zinc.
9. Hemp Seeds and Other Seeds
Seeds are another excellent source of zinc. A 3-tablespoon serving of hemp seeds has almost 3 milligrams of zinc. An ounce of pumpkin seeds contains 2.2 milligrams of zinc. Sesame seeds have 0.6 milligrams per tablespoon.
A 4-ounce serving has 1.8 milligrams of zinc. Since tofu absorbs flavors well, many vegans and vegetarians use it to replace meat in various types of recipes. Made from soybeans, tofu is also an excellent source of protein, calcium, manganese, and magnesium.
Your body doesn’t store zinc, so you need to get enough every day to avoid a deficiency. While rare in the U.S., symptoms of a zinc deficiency include:
- Appetite loss
- Poor immune function
- Delayed healing
- Hair loss
- Trouble tasting properly
People who are most at risk for zinc deficiency:
- Have alcohol use disorder
- Have a digestive disorder such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease
- Have sickle cell disease
- Are pregnant or breastfeeding
- Are a vegetarian or vegan
How Much Zinc Do You Need?
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of zinc depends on your age, sex, and whether you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. Here are the RDAs for zinc for people ages 19 and older:
- Women: 8 milligrams (mg) if not pregnant or lactating
- Men: 11 mg
- Pregnant people: 11 mg
- Breastfeeding people: 12 mg
Adults shouldn’t get more than 40 milligrams of zinc per day. That’s the upper limit from all sources combined: food and supplements.
Too much zinc can cause nausea, dizziness, headaches, and appetite loss.