What is Zinc?

Zinc is a metal that is found in various mineral forms in natural dietary sources. It is the second most abundant metal in the body with the highest concentrations in your bones, pancreas, and prostate (men) and at lower concentrations in your heart, brain, and blood.1 It is essential for the function of over 300 different enzymes and transcription factors, and has complex interactions with proteins throughout your body.1 Zinc is also needed for proper formation of proteins and cell membranes.

Primary Functions of Zinc in the Body

  • Immune function
  • DNA synthesis / cell division
  • Protein synthesis
  • Wound healings
  • Antioxidant

Zinc Deficiency

It’s estimated that approximately 2 billion people around the world suffer from zinc deficiency, especially in developing country and amongst the elderly in developed countries.1 Vegetarians and vegans are also at increased risk of deficiency as well as those with kidney disorders and excessive diarrhea.1

Symptoms of deficiency include slow growth, immune deficiency, loss of hair, testicular atrophy, and skin disorders. Zinc plays an important role in reducing oxidative stress and inflammation.1 It’s thought that zinc deficiency may also contribute to conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, macular degeneration, atherosclerosis, and cognitive disorders.1

Natural Dietary Sources of Zinc

Zinc is found primarily in foods with significant protein content such as red meat, oysters, seafood, poultry, eggs, beans/peas, nuts, seeds, and soy.

Zinc and Copper Balance

Like most minerals and vitamins, zinc does not function alone and getting too much of it without enough of the other necessary nutrients can cause imbalances and health problems. In the case of zinc, one of the minerals you need to pay special attention to is copper. Excessive intake of zinc can reduce your body’s absorption of copper, potentially leading to a copper deficiency.1–3

We don’t recommend taking high doses of any single mineral without relevant blood tests and supervision by a medical professional. Both zinc and copper can be toxic in excess, especially when taking as individual ingredients. We instead recommend approaches that use a balance of nutrients with required cofactors, the way those nutrients are found in a healthy and balanced diet.

Does Zinc Improve Immune Health?

Zinc supplements and lozenges are frequently marketed for boosting immune health, especially when you start to feel the symptoms of cold or flu setting in. While some studies have shown improvements in cold and flu symptoms and decreased duration of illness, there are just as many studies showing no difference.3,4

The evidence when taken as a whole shows no definite benefit to taking a zinc supplement to prevent or get over an illness. Be aware that some zinc-containing nasal gels and sprays have been associated with the loss of the sense of smell while offering no benefits with regards to reducing the severity or duration of cold and flu symptoms.However, it is clear that zinc is required for proper immune function, and zinc deficiency is clearly associated with decreased immune function.

Your immune system requires other nutrients besides zinc to operate at full capacity, so instead of taking a supplement containing only zinc, you are better off finding a well-balanced multivitamin that contains zinc along with other essential vitamins, antioxidants, amino acids, and minerals – including copper. On top of that, you can also incorporate immune boosting antioxidants, Vitamin D3, essential omega-3 oils, and even prebiotic fiber that supports a healthy intestinal microbiome.

    1. Wessels I, Maywald M, Rink L. Zinc as a Gatekeeper of Immune Function. Nutrients. 2017;9(12).
    2. Krebs NF. Overview of Zinc Absorption and Excretion in the Human Gastrointestinal Tract. J Nutr. 2000;130(5):1374S-1377. http://jn.nutrition.org/content/130/5/1374S.full.
    3. Zinc | Linus Pauling Institute | Oregon State University. https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/minerals/zinc.
    4. Hodkinson CF, Kelly M, Alexander HD, et al. Effect of Zinc Supplementation on the Immune Status of The ZENITH Study. J Gerontol. 2007;62(6):598-608.
  • Pinnaclife-science-based-nutrition-kyle-hilsabeck

    Kyle Hilsabeck, PharmD., is the Vice President of Pharmaceutical Affairs at McCord Holdings and licensed by the Iowa Board of Pharmacy.  He completed bachelors degrees in biology and biochemistry at Wartburg College before earning his Doctorate of Pharmacy from the University of Iowa College of Pharmacy. Upon graduation, he completed a community pharmacy practice residency through the University of Iowa where he focused primarily on nutritional aspects of care including the use of vitamin, mineral, and herbal supplements.  He has taught courses for the University of Iowa College of Pharmacy on vitamins, minerals, herbs, and nutritional supplements and given many presentations on the subject as well.  He has a passion for improving patient care specifically with regards to the safety and quality of the nutritional supplements and health information people use. 

Disclaimer: These statements have not been reviewed by the FDA. These products are dietary supplements and are not intended to treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The decision to use these products should be discussed with a trusted healthcare provider. The authors and the publisher of this work have made every effort to use sources believed to be reliable to provide information that is accurate and compatible with the standards generally accepted at the time of publication. The authors and the publisher shall not be liable for any special, consequential, or exemplary damages resulting, in whole or in part, from the readers’ use of, or reliance on, the information contained in this article. The publisher has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of URLs for external or third party Internet websites referred to in this publication and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.

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