Zinc is called an “essential trace element” because it's necessary for numerous chemical processes that take place within a cell. It's required for the activity of approximately 100 enzymes and plays a role in immune function, protein synthesis, wound healing, DNA synthesis, and cell division.
Zinc also supports normal growth and development during pregnancy, childhood, and adolescence and is required for a proper sense of taste and smell. To maintain a steady state of zinc, daily intake is required because our bodies don’t have a specialized system for storing zinc.
Let's talk about six health issues when supplemental zinc may be appropriate.
Immune Function and Zinc
The relationship between zinc and the immune system is complex since there are different ways zinc influences the immune system.
Zinc is necessary for immune support inside each and every cell of the body!
Zinc helps the immune system support its innate resistance to pathogens, including secondary pathogens.
Consuming zinc by itself is not effective. Rather than getting inside the cells where it’s needed, the zinc remains outside the cell (a little gets in, but not enough).
When a virus lives inside the cells of the body, the zinc must be able to get to it.
Zinc is most effective in combination with a zinc ionophore.
What Is a Zinc Ionophore?
It is necessary to transport (aka “push”) zinc inside the cell where it needs to be.
Zinc ionophores include Epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), quercetin, elderberry, and flavonoids from citrus peels.
There is reliable and relatively consistent data showing zinc is most effective at treating the common cold when taken within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms.
Zinc lozenges are a helpful way to support your immune system.
Lozenges containing zinc gluconate, zinc gluconate-glycine, and in most trials, zinc acetate have been effective; most other forms of zinc and lozenges flavored with citric acid, tartaric acid, sorbitol, or mannitol have been ineffective.
For the alleviation of cold symptoms, lozenges providing 13 to 25 mg of zinc (as zinc gluconate, zinc gluconate-glycine, or zinc acetate) are used every two hours while awake but only for several days. Remember, the best effect is obtained when lozenges are used at the first sign of a drop in your immune system function.
Wound Healing and Zinc
Long ago, during my first dietitian job at a hospital, I handled the nutrition piece within the hospital’s wound care clinic. I learned a lot about the value of eating specific nutrients to promote a normal, healthy healing process of these gnarly open wounds and sores. Zinc was one of those specific nutrients I always suggested the patients take. It’s important in the formation of collagen, a critical component in healing wound, and can enhance the wound-healing process.
Diarrhea and Zinc
Studies in developing countries found zinc may reduce the severity and duration of diarrhea in poorly nourished children, especially those with low zinc levels.
Zinc citrate is the form often chosen for supplements because of its bioavailability, which means that your body can absorb and utilize it effectively.
Male Fertility and Zinc
There’s reliable and relatively consistent information showing a zinc deficiency leads to reduced numbers of sperm and impotence in men. Taking zinc may help support normal, healthy sperm quality. The ideal amount of supplemental zinc remains unknown, but some doctors recommend 30 mg two times per day. Long-term zinc supplementation requires 1–2 mg of copper per day to prevent copper deficiency. Immunozinc contains a proper ratio of zinc to copper.
Eye Health and Zinc
Zinc is a crucial mineral that plays an essential role in maintaining good eye health. The macula is a small but vital area in the center of your retina. It's responsible for sharp, detailed vision. Zinc helps keep your macula healthy and functioning properly, which is crucial for tasks like reading and recognizing faces.
Research suggests zinc might help keep early age-related macular degeneration from worsening into advanced AMD. If you have AMD or are developing it, you might want to talk to their doctor about taking zinc.
Stomach Ulcers and Zinc
The healing process of stomach ulcers may be enhanced through treatment with zinc, although more studies are needed to more clearly determine its effects. Most studies report few or no side effects associated with its use.
Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) for Zinc
This is the RDA for zinc as suggested by National Institutes of Health/Office of Dietary Supplements:
*indicates Adequate Intake (AI), equivalent to the mean intake of zinc in healthy, breastfed infants.