Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on April 06, 2022
4 min read

Zinc is an essential mineral that keeps your immune system strong, helps heal wounds, and supports normal growth. It also affects your senses of taste and smell. Your body can't make it, so you have to get it from foods or supplements. You can get zinc from foods like oysters, meat, beans, and dairy. 

If you shop for a zinc supplement, you'll notice there are several kinds. To make zinc more digestible, it's bound, or "chelated," with another compound or amino acid. 

Zinc gluconate. This is the most common type. It's bound with gluconic acid and often found in supplements, nasal sprays, and lozenges. Research suggests it can shorten the common cold. 

Zinc citrate. This form is bound with citric acid and is very similar in terms of absorption to zinc gluconate. 

Zinc picolinate. This form is bound with picolinic acid. Research shows it may be absorbed slightly better than other forms of zinc, which is why it's often used to treat zinc deficiency. 

Zinc acetate. This type of zinc is also bound with citric acid. It's often used in cold remedies, like lozenges and sprays. Some research suggests it might be better than zinc gluconate at shortening the common cold. 

Zinc oxide. This form is less well-absorbed when taken by mouth, which is why it's more commonly used topically in sunscreens and other skin care products.

Most people in developed countries get enough zinc from their diet. Still, people choose to take supplements for different reasons. 

Zinc for colds

Zinc has become a popular treatment for the common cold. Some studies have found that zinc lozenges may reduce the duration of a cold. One study found that zinc shortened the duration by 33%.

Zinc for skin

Zinc helps fight infection and heal wounds. But if you already have enough zinc from your diet, it is not clear that getting more from supplements has any added benefit. Topical zinc is used to treat diaper rash and skin irritation. Zinc is a common ingredient in sunscreen because it reflects harmful rays from the sun.

Zinc for hair

Not getting enough zinc in your diet could cause hair loss. But taking zinc supplements won't help you grow new hair if you don't have a deficiency. 

Zinc and macular degeneration

Zinc may play a role in age-related macular degeneration. But there isn't enough evidence to show that taking a zinc supplement on its own can prevent the condition. Some research shows that it may help people who have risk factors when combined with other nutrients. 

Zinc deficiency

If a blood test shows you are deficient in zinc, your doctor may recommend a supplement. Strict vegetarians, people with alcohol use disorders, and people who have a poor diet are at higher risk of zinc deficiency. So are those with certain digestive problems, such as Crohn's disease.

Other benefits of zinc

Getting zinc can help when a health problem, such as HIV or type 2 diabetes, causes a zinc deficiency. 

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) includes the zinc you get from both the food you eat and any supplements you take.


Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of Zinc


7 months to 3 years

3 mg/day

4-8 years

5 mg/day

9-13 years

8 mg/day


14-18 years

9 mg/day

19 years and up

8 mg/day


14-18 years: 12 mg/day
19 years and over: 11 mg/day


14-18 years: 13 mg/day
19 years and over: 12 mg/day


14 years and up

11 mg/day

The tolerable upper intake level (UL) of a supplement is the highest amount that most people can take safely. Never take more unless your health care provider says so. Keep in mind that this upper limit includes the zinc you get from foods and supplements.

(Children & Adults)

Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) of Zinc

0-6 months

4 mg/day

7-12 months

5 mg/day

1-3 years

7 mg/day

4-8 years

12 mg/day

9-13 years

23 mg/day

14-18 years

34 mg/day

19 years and up

40 mg/day

It's very unlikely that you would get too much zinc from food. Taking too many zinc supplements can cause problems, though, including: 

  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Upset stomach
  • Vomiting 
  • Low appetite

Taking too much zinc for a long time can have serious health risks, such as:

  • Low levels of the mineral copper
  • Low levels of "good" high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol
  • Weakened immune system


The best food sources of zinc are:

  • Red meat
  • Poultry
  • Oysters
  • Fortified cereals
  • Whole grains
  • Beans and nuts

Zinc is an essential mineral that boosts your immune system, helps with wound healing, and supports normal growth and development. Your body doesn't make it, so you need to get enough from zinc-rich foods, like oysters, beef, and beans. There's some evidence that taking a zinc supplement at the first signs of a cold can help get rid of it sooner. Zinc deficiency is rare, but talk to your doctor if you think you might be low in the nutrient. 

Is it OK to take zinc every day?

As long as you don't go over the recommended daily limit for zinc, taking a zinc supplement every day isn't harmful for most people. But you should always talk to your doctor before taking any supplements. 

Which food is highest in zinc?

Oysters have the most zinc, with 32 milligrams in 3 ounces. 

What are the symptoms of zinc deficiency?

Some symptoms of low zinc are hair loss, increased infections, and slow wound healing.