The Benefits of Zinc: What You Need to Know

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on August 05, 2023
3 min read

Zinc is a trace mineral, which means you only need a very small amount of it every day. You can get this essential nutrient by eating a balanced diet, but sometimes you may need to take a zinc supplement. 

Your body needs zinc to function properly. If you don’t get enough, you could develop health problems. Your body uses zinc to do the following: 

  • ‌Heal wounds
  • Support the function of your immune system
  • Develop your reproductive system 
  • Develop your sense of taste and smell 
  • Produce and store insulin 
  • Help your thyroid and metabolism work properly
  • Make proteins and DNA

‌Zinc has also been shown in some studies to improve the following conditions: 

  • ‌Common cold 
  • ‌Diarrhea 
  • Age-related macular degeneration (AMD)

Getting the right amount of zinc is especially important as you grow. Children and teens need to have zinc in their diet. 

Zinc is a vital nutrient in pregnancy. It helps with the proper development of the fetus. People who breastfeed also need more zinc in their diet than usual. 

‌Most people get enough zinc from the food they eat. The following groups are at risk of zinc deficiency. 

  • People with digestive disorders like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. The body often can’t absorb zinc well when experiencing these conditions. 
  • People who follow a vegetarian diet. Meat is a good source of zinc, and vegetarian protein sources like legumes can prevent zinc from being absorbed. 
  • Infants older than 6 months who breastfeed. Breast milk doesn’t have enough zinc for a baby over 6 months of age. Adding another source of zinc into their diet is necessary. Formula usually contains enough zinc for older infants. ‌
  • People who struggle with alcoholism. Alcohol can prevent your body from absorbing zinc. People with alcoholism often don’t have a well-balanced diet that includes enough zinc. 

You can usually get enough zinc through your diet. The best food sources of zinc are: 

  • ‌Oysters, crab, and lobster
  • Red meat
  • Pork 
  • Chicken and other poultry
  • Nuts, whole grains, and beans
  • Dairy products
  • Fortified foods like breakfast cereal

So how much zinc do you need? Men need 11 milligrams/day of zinc, while women need 8 milligrams/day. People who are pregnant or breastfeeding often need about 11 to 12 milligrams/day. 

Zinc requirements vary in childhood and teenage years: 

  • Babies aged 0 to 6 months need 2 milligrams/day
  • Infants aged 7 months to 3 years need 3 milligrams/day
  • Kids aged 4 to 8 years need 5 milligrams/day
  • Children aged 9 to 13 years need 8 milligrams/day
  • Teenage girls aged 14 to 18 years need 9 milligrams/day
  • Teenage boys aged 14 to 18 years require 11 milligrams/day

Because zinc is used in many areas of the body, deficiency can be a serious matter. Zinc deficiency can cause the following: ‌

  • Delayed growth
  • Delayed sexual development
  • Impotence in men 
  • Hair loss
  • Diarrhea 
  • Sore skin and eyes 
  • Delayed wound healing
  • Weight loss 
  • Decreased appetite 

If you suspect you have a zinc deficiency, talk to your doctor or healthcare provider before you start supplementing. Taking more zinc than you need through supplements can cause zinc toxicity. 

The signs of zinc toxicity are as follows: 

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Little or no appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach cramps and indigestion

The upper limit dosage of zinc is 40 milligrams/day for adults. If you take more zinc than you should for a long period, you can have low copper levels, which can affect your nervous system. 

Zinc can interact with other medications. Some medicines can lower the levels of zinc in your body. Taking zinc with other medications can make them less effective. 

Thiazide diuretics. Chlorthalidone and hydrochlorothiazide can make you lose zinc through urine. Taking these medicines for a long time can decrease the amount of zinc in your body.

Antibiotics. Taking quinolone or tetracycline with zinc can make the medication less effective and prevent your body from absorbing the zinc. Leave a gap of 4 to 6 hours between the medicine and zinc for best results. 

Penicillamine. Taking zinc with penicillamine, which is used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, can lower the effectiveness of both. Take them 2 hours apart to maximize their benefits.

Talk to your pharmacist or doctor about any concerns regarding medicine interaction.