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What Taking Zinc Does For Your Body Say Experts

What to know about Zinc.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Zinc plays a central role in our immune system and helps keep our bodies healthy. Zinc is "a trace mineral/nutrient found throughout the body. Our body only needs small amounts to thrive," Dr. Seema Bonney, the founder and medical director of the Anti-Aging & Longevity Center of Philadelphia tells Eat This, Not That! Health. Zinc is essential for overall well-being and Dr. Bonney explains what to know about it. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


​​Why is Zinc Important?


Dr. Bonney says, " Zinc is important because it supports the immune system. Taking Zinc can help your body fight illness. Evidence suggests that if zinc is taken within 24 hours after cold symptoms start, the supplement can help shorten the length of the cold. It also helps the metabolism function and is important for the growth of cells, building proteins and healing damaged tissues. In addition, zinc may slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration. The benefits of taking Zinc include optimal immune function, healthy metabolism, wound healing and cellular repair."

Harvard Health states zinc, "is necessary for almost 100 enzymes to carry out vital chemical reactions. It is a major player in the creation of DNA, growth of cells, building proteins, healing damaged tissue, and supporting a healthy immune system. Because it helps cells to grow and multiply, adequate zinc is required during times of rapid growth, such as childhood, adolescence, and pregnancy. Zinc is also involved with the senses of taste and smell." 


What Happens If We Don't Get Enough Zinc?

young man in white t-shirt and jeans looking in mirror at thinning hair
Shutterstock / Maridav

According to Dr. Booney, "When we don't get enough zinc we may experience loss of taste or smell, poor appetite, depression, decreased immunity, weight loss and delayed wound healing. It can also cause hair loss, skin/eye lesions and impotence. In kids, a zinc deficiency can lead to slower growth."

The National Institutes of Health states, "Most people in the United States get enough zinc from the foods they eat. However, certain groups of people are more likely than others to have trouble getting enough zinc:

–People who have had gastrointestinal surgery, such as weight loss surgery, or who have digestive disorders, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease. These conditions can both decrease the amount of zinc that the body absorbs and increase the amount lost in the urine.

–Vegetarians because they do not eat meat, which is a good source of zinc. Also, the beans and grains they typically eat have compounds that keep zinc from being fully absorbed by the body. For this reason, vegetarians might need to eat as much as 50% more zinc than the recommended amounts.

–Older infants who are breastfed because breast milk does not have enough zinc for infants over 6 months of age. Older infants who do not take formula should be given foods that have zinc such as pureed meats. Formula-fed infants get enough zinc from infant formula.

–Alcoholics because alcoholic beverages decrease the amount of zinc that the body absorbs and increase the amount lost in the urine. Also, many alcoholics eat a limited amount and variety of food, so they may not get enough zinc.

–People with sickle cell disease because they might need more zinc.

Zinc deficiency is rare in North America. It causes slow growth in infants and children, delayed sexual development in adolescents and impotence in men. Zinc deficiency also causes hair loss, diarrhea, eye and skin sores and loss of appetite. Weight loss, problems with wound healing, decreased ability to taste food, and lower alertness levels can also occur. Many of these symptoms can be signs of problems other than zinc deficiency. If you have these symptoms, your doctor can help determine whether you might have a zinc deficiency."

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What Happens if We Get Too Much Zinc?

Young woman suffers, writhes in abdominal pain lying on couch in living room at home interior

Dr. Bonney explains, "We do not see zinc toxicity from food alone. Over supplementing zinc is the main cause of side effects. They include nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain or cramping, headaches and diarrhea. When oral zinc is taken long term and in high doses, it can cause a copper deficiency. It is important to check your levels with your doctor before taking zinc. Zinc can also interact with certain medications, so make sure to discuss that with your physician as well."

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Who Shouldn't Take Zinc and Why?

close up hands opening birth control package

Dr. Booney shares, "Zinc interacts with certain medications such as birth control pills and antibiotics. It is essential to speak with your doctor about any prescriptions and/or supplements you are taking before adding zinc to the mix. Zinc can potentially harm the fetus if taken improperly during pregnancy. It is also necessary to discuss zinc supplementation with your doctor if you have HIV or hemochromatosis."  


Can Zinc Be Harmful?

young woman with nausea in all denim outfit sitting on bed
Shutterstock / New Africa

National Institutes of Health says, "Yes, if you get too much. Signs of too much zinc include nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, stomach cramps, diarrhea, and headaches. When people take too much zinc for a long time, they sometimes have problems such as low copper levels, lower immunity, and low levels of HDL cholesterol (the "good" cholesterol). The daily upper limits for zinc include intakes from all sources—food, beverages, and supplements—and are listed below. These levels do not apply to people who are taking zinc for medical reasons under the care of a doctor:"

Life Stage Upper Limit

Birth to 6 months 4 mg

Infants 7–12 months 5 mg

Children 1–3 years 7 mg

Children 4–8 years 12 mg

Children 9–13 years 23 mg

Teens 14–18 years 34 mg

Adults 40 mg

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather