Zinc is a micronutrient that’s vital for keeping your body healthy. It’s an ‘essential’ mineral, meaning the body cannot produce it. This means you must consume zinc every day in the diet or from dietary supplements.
What is Zinc
Zinc is an essential mineral found in several foods, including meats, shellfish, legumes, dairy, eggs, whole grains, some vegetables (potatoes and kale), and seeds and nuts (1). However, it can also be consumed via dietary supplements if the diet is low in zinc-containing foods.
This micronutrient is a vital nutrient for several body functions. These include supporting a healthy immune system, keeping bones strong, aiding in healing, helps in iron absorption, functioning as an antioxidant, and promoting healthy aging.
5 Benefits of Zinc
- Boosts the immune system
Zinc is involved in many parts of the immune system and keeping immunity strong.
It is critical for immune cell development and function. Zinc is necessary for immune cell function (i.e., white blood cells like lymphocytes and phagocytes) (2). These cells help protect the body against infections and illnesses.
Because of this, a deficiency in zinc can cause a delayed immune response.
- Aids wound healing and tissue repair
Zinc is essential for cell growth, making it a key component in tissue repair.
Because of this, adequate to higher levels of zinc in the diet is connect to increased rate of tissue repair and wound healing.
- Functions as an antioxidant
Zinc is also an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent.
This mineral protects cells from damage by free radicals, but also decreases oxidative stress. Oxidative stress contributes to chronic inflammation, which can contribute to the development of several age-related diseases (3).
However, several studies in older population have shown the positive effect of decreasing markers of inflammation and damage to cells.
- May benefit memory and boost learning
Although this subject has limited research, an adequate amount of zinc has been shown to benefit the function of memory. Also, aid in the ability to learn and store this information in long-term memory (4).
However, it is important to note that an excess or toxicity of zinc may also have the opposite effect on the brain; so it’s important to ensure you are not overconsuming this mineral.
- May help clarify skin
The clinical trials associated to zinc and acne are also limited, but from the research that has been done has shown a positive outcome of zinc and its ability to clarify skin.
As an antibacterial agent, zinc can hinder bacteria that cause acne breakouts. Also, its anti-inflammatory properties can reduce redness and pain associated with moderate to severe acne (5).
What is the daily requirement of Zinc
The recommended daily amount (DRI) of zinc is 11mg for adult men and 8 mg for adult women (2).
This requirement increases for certain groups, including pregnant women (11mg) and breastfeeding women (12mg).
Risks of Zinc deficiency and toxicity
Zinc is an important mineral for many functions of the body, but like any micronutrient, there are always risks of deficiency. And of the opposite end, there is also the possibility of toxicity. Though both deficiency and toxicity are rare, it’s important to understand that the risks of each.
Not meeting the recommended daily amount of zinc can lead to deficiency. Symptoms include (2):
- Impaired growth and development
- Skin rashes
- Weakened immune system
- Slow wound healing
On the opposite side, toxicity can occur with mega doses of zinc. Just like deficiency, too much zinc can cause health complications and negative side effects.
Indicators that you may be consuming (via diet or complement) too much zinc can include (2):
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Headache and cramps
- Reduced immune function
What are the best sources of Zinc?
Because zinc is an essential nutrient, it’s important to meet the suggested intake recommendations every day via diet or dietary supplement.
As mentioned, zinc found in a variety of foods -- meats, shellfish, animal by-products, and some vegetables.
However, if you are having difficulties meeting your zinc daily intake requirements through your diet, supplements are also recommended. Zinc can be found in most multivitamins, but is also available as a solitary supplement.
Also, consult with a healthcare professional to discuss if you are consuming an adequate amount of zinc through your daily diet.
Author: Allison Lansman, RDN, LD