Are You Using Zinc To Boost Your Immunity? What You Need To Know

In last week’s Health article, we gave focus to the dietary mineral zinc and how it could prove to be a warrior in the fight against COVID 19. This week , I want us to explore a little bit more in detail about why we may or may not want to consume zinc supplements, and how to determine whether you are or are not consuming the correct amount of zinc in your diet.

Why Use Zinc?

Why would anyone want to consume zinc supplements? It turns out that zinc is a nutrient found throughout the body and plays a vital part in our immune system, metabolic function, healing wounds, and our senses of taste and smell. Additional research is also leading us to believe that zinc helps the body control its blood sugar, fight acne, slow macular degeneration, and improve heart health by lowering triglyceride and cholesterol levels. Considering how zinc is involved in some very important boy functions, it seems like a simple decision to begin taking zinc supplements, right? But there are other considerations before you buy that first bottle of zinc.  

What is Zinc Deficiency?

From the National Institutes of Health, “Zinc deficiency is characterized by growth retardation, loss of appetite, and impaired immune function. In more severe cases, zinc deficiency causes hair loss, diarrhea, delayed sexual maturation, impotence, hypogonadism in males, and eye and skin lesions. Weight loss, delayed healing of wounds, taste abnormalities, and mental lethargy can also occur.”

Recommended Daily Allowance of Zinc

What Are Good Food Sources of Zinc?

It turns out that zinc deficiency is rare in the Western world because of the western diet. Note the amount of zinc found in foods, particularly meats, that are commonly consumed on daily basis.

It is likely you are consuming enough zinc in your regular diet. But what if you are a vegetarian or vegan, and thus not consuming foods such as meat? Then supplements should be considered.

Isn’t All Zinc the Same?

In the tables above, they were showing you volumes of “elemental” zinc. Here’s the rub, the human body is unable consume elemental zinc, thus in order to get zinc into our bodies, we must consume zinc found in other forms, such as meats, and then our body pulls the nutrient out of the meat.

Zinc supplements much the same way as food in that they contain zinc in a form that we can consume, and then our bodies will pull out the elemental zinc in way that we can use it. Nonetheless, there is still confusion in marketplace because there appears to be several types of zincs used in zinc supplements.

Here is a break down of the types of zincs in supplements

Zinc gluconate: As one of the most common over-the-counter forms of zinc, zinc gluconate is often used in cold remedies, such as lozenges and nasal sprays

Zinc acetate: Like zinc gluconate, zinc acetate is often added to cold lozenges to reduce symptoms and speed up the rate of recovery

Zinc sulfate: In addition to helping prevent zinc deficiency, zinc sulfate has been shown to reduce the severity of acne. Zinc sulfate has been shown to upset stomachs, so consider using it as a topical ointment only.

Zinc picolinate: Some research suggests that your body may absorb this form better than other types of zinc, including zinc gluconate and zinc citrate

Zinc orotate: This form is bound to orotic acid and one of the most common types of zinc supplements on the market

Zinc citrate: One study showed that this type of zinc supplement is as well-absorbed as zinc gluconate but has a less bitter, more appealing taste

Zinc gluconate is the most common on the market, but zinc picolinate is the easiest to absorb. Shop around for what makes the best sense for your wallet. But whatever you do, DO NOT use nasal sprays with zinc. These sprays have been linked to a loss of smell. Fortunately, most of these products have been pulled from shelves in the US.

How zinc is in here?

How much Zinc is in Your Supplement?

Now that we know there are different types of zinc, and important thing to find out is how much elemental zinc is in your supplement. Some supplement companies do a better job than others in noting the amount of elemental zinc in the supplement. Here is the percentage of elemental zinc found in various zincs:

Zinc Gluconate: 14%

Zinc Acetate: 20%

Zinc Sulfate: 23%

Zinc Picolinate: 21%

Zinc Orotate: 17%

Zinc Citrate: 34%

Too Much of a Good Thing, IS BAD!

The upper limit of zinc intake should not surpass 40mg per day for adults, and long term dosages this high can cause adverse effects such as copper and iron deficiency in the body, as well as nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and headaches. There is really no reason to consume more zinc than your body needs.

People at Risk of Zinc Deficiency

People with gastrointestinal diseases: These folks generally have a difficult time absorbing nutrition because of their disease

Vegetarians & vegans: The nature of the diets, being that they eschew meats and thus one of the largest sources of dietary zinc, means that these folks have a greater than normal risk of zinc deficiency. 

People with Sickle Cell Anemia: Because the blood cells are misshapen, people with sickle cell anemia have a difficult transporting zinc through the body.

Alcoholic: Alcohol consumption retards the absorption of zinc

In my opinion, considering that we are in the midst of a world wide pandemic, and additional intake of zinc appears warranted. I do consume meat, so any supplement I take will be low in dosage.

Let me know your thoughts on this topic. Will you start taking zinc now? Are you already taking zinc, and will you now raise or lower the amount you consume? Will you start taking zinc, but wait for a time when you believe it is most needed, like during cold and flu season? Or will you not take zinc, feeling that you consume enough in your food each day?

I look forward to hearing from you.




Mayo Clinic: