Zinc (Zn): Uses, Benefits, Food Sources, & Side Effects

What Is Zinc (Zn)?

Friends, in this article we are going to know about the Uses, Health Benefits, Dosage, Deficiency, Food Sources, and Side Effects of Zinc (Zn).

But before that, I will explain to you what is zinc (Zn).

Friends, it is a metal with the chemical symbol Zn and atomic number 30. It is slightly brittle at room temperature. It is the 24th most abundant element in the earth’s crust. 

Since it is needed in a very small amount by the human body that’s why it is also called an “essential trace element”. Your body can’t produce or store excess zinc, so you must get its constant supply through your diet.

It has numerous essential roles in the body and is required for the activity of more than 300 different enzymes in the body.

It is needed for a healthy immune system and its deficiency can make you more susceptible to infections.

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for zinc in the USA is 8 milligrams for women and 11 milligrams a day for men.

Meat, poultry, fish, oysters, and legume products are main food sources of zinc

Its deficiency can occur if you don’t have enough consumption from your diet. Its deficiency in children can cause short stature, acute diarrhea, and increased risk of infections.

Friends, it is estimated that zinc deficiency affects about 17% of the world population.

Its deficiency in adults causes loss of appetite, poor sense of taste, rough and dry skin, diarrhea, slow wound healing, increased risk of infection, etc.

What Are The Uses And Health Benefits Of Zinc (Zn)?

Friends, below I am explaining the important uses and health benefits of zinc (Zn):

1) Zinc (Zn) Boosts Your Immune System

It plays an important role in your body’s immunity to infection-causing bacteria, viruses, and fungi. It is due to the reason that it is needed for immune cell function and cell signaling.

Its deficiency can make you more susceptible to infection.

Friends, zinc helps in preventing and treating common cold due to its inhibitory effect on viruses.

2) Zinc Helps To Combat Cancer

It can aid cancer treatment.

A study has suggested that the zinc has beneficial effects on cancer by decreasing angiogenesis (it is the formation of new blood vessels) and increases apoptosis (a form of programmed cell death) in cancer cells. (1)

3) Zinc (Zn) May Help In Diabetes Management

This mineral has a beneficial effect on glycemic control.

In type 2 diabetes, amylin named protein forms dense clumps and these clumps shut down insulin-producing cells, causing uncontrolled blood sugar. But in study zinc has been found to prevent amylin from misbehaving. (2)

This mineral is also required to produce insulin (a pancreatic hormone) and pancreatic enzymes.

It also helps to decrease body weight in obese people suffering from diabetes.

4) It May Help In Weight Loss

Zinc plays an important role in controlling your metabolism. Individuals with its deficiency may notice an unexplained weight gain or may have difficulty in controlling their weight despite a strict control on their diet.

Its supplementation had reduced body mass indices (BMI) and body weight in healthy obese adults.

5) Zinc (Zn) Can Boost Brain Health

Several studies have revealed the beneficial effects of this mineral on brain health.

In one study zinc has been successfully employed to treat specific types of schizophrenia. (3)

This mineral plays an important role in protecting brain cells and boosting healing processes in the nervous system.

This mineral is present in body tissues and fluids throughout the body but its highest amount is present in the brain. It has an important role in regulating neuronal communication, which affects memory and learning.

6) It Protects The Heart

Studies have shown that the zinc levels in the body not only affect the essential metabolic functions but also affect the heart muscle. This mineral can protect the heart muscles from oxidative stress. This study has shown the relationship between cardiac function and the total amount of zinc present in the body. (4)

It also helps to regulate the heartbeat. Another study has shown that sufficient zinc supplementation can help to prevent angina pectoris (chest pain or discomfort due to inadequate blood flow to the heart muscle). (5)

7) It Is Beneficial For The Bones and Teeth

Zinc (Zn) is an essential mineral for the well-being of bones. Its intake lowers the bone loss.

Its supplementation along with copper, manganese, calcium, vitamin D, and boron has been found to prevent and reduce bone loss.

It is an important trace element present in dental hard tissues and saliva. It is very effective against dental caries, periodontitis, and gingivitis like oral health problems. (6)

Due to its role in oral health, it is used in several oral health care products to prevent the formation of dental plaque and tartar. 

In toothpastes and mouthwashes chelated zinc is used to prevent bad breath.

8) Zinc Improves Digestive Health

It promotes the integrity of the gastrointestinal epithelial barrier function. Thus prevents several digestive problems like diarrhea. (7)

It is required for the action of more than 300 enzymes and many of these enzymes help to break down our food into smaller molecules, especially protein. That’s why persons with zinc deficiency usually experience digestive disturbances, and the most common is difficulty in digesting protein.

Research has shown that even a short-term zinc deficiency can impair digestion. (8)   

9) It Plays An Important Role In Maintaining Vision

Zinc is present in high concentrations in the eye especially in the retina and choroid (vascular tissue under the retina).

It helps in bringing vitamin A from the liver to the retina to form melanin, which is a protective pigment in the eyes.

Its deficiency can cause changes in the retina. 

A study has shown that its supplementation can prevent age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

People consuming sufficient zinc in their diet have a lower risk of developing this age-related vision loss (or AMD).

It can also prevent poor night vision and cloudy cataracts. (9)

10) It Accelerates Wound Healing

It plays an important role in collagen synthesis and inflammatory response, necessary for proper wound healing. That’s why zinc (Zn) is used in the treatment of certain ulcers, burns, and other skin injuries.

Its supplementation can cause faster-wound healing, while its deficiency can result in slower wound healing.

A study conducted on 60 people with grade 3 diabetic foot ulcers has shown that there is a significant reduction in length and width of ulcers of people who treated with 50 mg of elemental zinc supplement for 12 weeks as compared to the placebo group. (10)

11) It Boosts Men’s Sexual Health

Zinc helps the male body in the production of testosterone, which could be the main reason for erectile dysfunction due to its deficiency.

A study has proved that its supplementation can increase testosterone in healthy male adults. (11)

Another study indicates that its supplementation increases sperm count and its deficiency can be a risk factor for the low quality of sperm and male infertility. (12)

Sufficient zinc levels are required to support prostate health. Its chronic deficiency can increase the risk of developing BPH (Benign prostatic hyperplasia). Its supplementation can reduce the urinary symptoms related to the enlarged prostate gland.

12) It Can Fight Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a disorder which is characterized by extreme fatigue that lasts for at least six months and can’t be explained by an underlying medical condition.

CFS is accompanied by increased oxidative stress and since zinc is a strong antioxidant, it can fight this disorder. (13)

Zinc can also increase energy levels because it is an essential mineral required for the body’s several natural processes. 

13) It May Be Helpful During Pregnancy

Zinc intake during pregnancy may help to reduce preterm births.

Its deficiency can cause preterm birth or prolonged labor.  

Population studies have shown that more than 80% of pregnant women worldwide are deficient in zinc. (14)

Its supplementation along with other nutrients like folate etc. may result in favorable outcomes during pregnancy.

14) It Is Helpful In Treating Diarrhea In Children

According to the World Health Organization, every year more than a million children under five years of age are killed by diarrhea due to fluid loss and dehydration.

Its supplementation is very helpful in treating diarrheal episodes in children. Recent studies have shown that administering zinc along with low concentration oral rehydration solutions can reduce the duration and severity of diarrheal episodes. (15)

World Health Organization recommends a zinc supplement for 10-14 days in children with acute diarrhea to decrease the severity of the episode and also to prevent reoccurrences in the following two to three months. 

15) It Helps To Detoxify The Body

Zinc helps in flushing toxins from the cells of your body. it is a strong antioxidant that destroys free radicals in your body and is helpful in removing heavy metals from the body.

It helps to enhance the function of the liver. Its deficiency is often observed in many types of liver disease like alcoholic liver disease (ALD) and viral liver disease. (16)

16) It May Help To Treat Acne

Acne is a long-term skin disease that occurs when your hair follicles become plugged with dead skin cells and oil from the skin.

A study has shown that acne patients tend to have lower levels of zinc. The mineral may help reduce the symptoms of acne. (17)

Zinc reduces the activity of keratinocytes (which produce keratin). Excessive production of keratin can block the hair follicles and thus can cause acne.

This mineral is known to kill Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes), acne-causing bacteria, and fights inflammation.

The above properties of the zinc help to make your skin clear. And this is the reason it is used in creams and ointments for treating skin ailments.

This mineral (in the form of zinc oxide) is often used in the topical preparations to protect from sunburn in summer and windburn in winter.

17) It May Boost Hair Growth

This mineral plays a crucial role in hair tissue growth and repair. It helps in maintaining healthy hair.

Hair loss is a symptom of zinc deficiency. (18)

Zinc supplements can reduce the hair loss caused by its deficiency.  

This mineral (in the form of zinc pyrithione) is included in the shampoos to prevent dandruff.

18) It May Relieve PMS Symptoms

PMS (Premenstrual syndrome) has a wide variety of signs and symptoms affecting a woman’s emotions, behavior, and physical health.

It’s a very common condition and approximately 3 of every 4 menstruating women have experienced some form of PMS.

Intake of zinc supplements is associated with improvement of PMS symptoms. (19)

What Is The Recommended Daily Dosage of Zinc (Zn)?

The recommended daily dosage of zinc for adult men is 11 mg and for adult women is 8 mg.

The tolerable upper level for this mineral is 40 mg daily. But those who are suffering from zinc deficiency may need to take high-dose supplements after their doctor’s advice.

Pregnant women and lactating mothers should take 11 mg and 12 mg per day, respectively.

If its supplement is required to consume, then you should take its absorbable forms (like citrate, etc.) and avoid its poorly absorbed forms (like oxide, etc.).

What Are The Symptoms Of Zinc (Zn) Deficiency?

Milder forms of zinc deficiency are common especially in developing countries as in these countries diets are usually lacking in essential nutrients.

It is estimated that deficiency of this mineral affects about 17% of the world population.

Severe zinc deficiency is rare and can occur in people with rare genetic mutations, people with alcohol addictions, or people taking certain immune-suppressing medicines.

The Most Common Symptoms Of Zinc Deficiency In Adults Are:

  • Digestive problems (like diarrhea)
  • Hair loss
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)
  • Weakened immune system
  • Poor concentration and memory
  • Infertility
  • Worsened PMS symptoms
  • Slow wound healing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Rough and dry skin
  • Increased risk of infections
  • Mood disturbances

Symptoms Of Zinc Deficiency in Children Are:

  • Skin rashes
  • Acute diarrhea
  • Delayed sexual maturity
  • Short stature
  • Increased risk of infections
  • Slow wound healing

Friends deficiency of this mineral is not easily detected by laboratory tests as your body’s close control over zinc levels. So, if a person’s laboratory tests are normal, he/she still can be deficient in zinc.

That’s why doctors also consider your risk factors (like poor diet, alcohol consumption, etc.) along with your blood tests for deciding whether you need its supplements or not.

Who Is At Risk Of Zinc Deficiency?

Following people are at risk of zinc deficiency:

1) Pregnant and lactating women

2) Vegans and vegetarian people

3) People who abuse alcohol

4) People with poor absorption like celiac disease.

5) People with sickle cell anemia

6) People with CKD (chronic kidney disease)

7) People with poor dietary intake

8) People with gastrointestinal diseases like Crohn’s disease

What Are The Side Effects Of Excess Zinc (Zn)?

Not only zinc deficiency can lead to health problems, but its excessive intake can also have negative effects on your health.

The main cause of zinc toxicity is taking excessive amount of its supplements.

Its excessive intake can cause chronic or acute symptoms.

Side Effects Of Excessive Zinc Intake Are:

  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Lower blood levels of good HDL cholesterol
  • Reduce immunity
  • Loss of appetite
  • Altered body’s copper and iron levels

Consuming excessive zinc for longer periods can interfere with your body’s absorption of iron and copper.

Its excessive intake can also cause complications during pregnancy.

The tolerable upper intake level for this mineral is 40 mg daily, both from food and supplements combined, for adults.

Friends, one thing is to be noted here that some of the symptoms of its deficiency are similar to its side effects of excessive intake.

So if you are taking its supplement then you should ask your doctor about the form, dosage, frequency, length of use, and how to take the supplement. 

What Are The Food Sources Of Zinc (Zn)?

Zinc can be obtained from foods of plant and animal origin, making it easy for most people to get adequate amounts from their diet.

The zinc-rich foods are:

  • Dairy products — milk, cheese, yogurt.
  • Poultry — chicken, turkey, etc.
  • Meat – pork, grass-fed beef, lamb, etc.
  • Fish – sardines, salmon, sole, etc.
  • Shellfish – oysters, lobster, crab, mussels, etc.
  • Eggs
  • Nuts and seeds – cashews, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, etc.
  • Vegetables – mushrooms, peas, kale, asparagus, etc.
  • Whole grains – quinoa, oats, brown rice, etc.
  • Legumes – lentils, kidney beans, black beans, chickpeas, etc.

Food sources of animal origin such as meat contain this mineral in a form that can be easily absorbed by your body.

The absorption rate of zinc in plant-based foods is lesser than animal-based foods.

Its supplements are available in capsules and tablets form in the market.

In supplements, zinc is present in the form of acetate, glycinate, citrate, and sulfate, etc.

Its best absorbed forms (like citrate, glycinate, etc.) are available in higher quality supplements

You can buy its supplements from a health food store or from online.

Final Word

Zinc is an essential trace element needed for a strong immune system, growth, metabolism, digestion, and healthy skin. It is also required for healthy brain function, wound healing, and men’s fertility, etc.

Its deficiency can lead to some health problems. So it’s important to take an adequate amount of this mineral in your diet.

You should focus on food for obtaining your daily zinc requirement.

But if its deficiency occurs then only you should take supplements and too in the prescribed dosage and form.

Frequently Asked Questions

When should I take zinc?

Zinc supplements are most effective when they are taken one hour before or two hours after meals. But if these causes nausea, vomiting, or abdominal cramps, then you should take them with a meal (after consulting your doctor).

What medications should not be taken with zinc?

This mineral makes your immune system stronger. So, it shouldn’t be taken with immunosuppressant medications like cyclosporine, corticosteroids, and other medicines that suppress the immune system.



1) Zinc in cancer prevention – US National Library of Medicine.


2) Preventing diabetes damage: Zinc’s effects on a kinky, two-faced cohort– ScienceDaily


3) Zinc, the brain and behavior — US National Library of Medicine


4) Zinc supply affects cardiac health — ScienceDaily


5) High-dose zinc to terminate angina pectoris –US National Library of Medicine


6) US National Library of Medicine


7) US National Library of Medicine


8) Diet lacking in zinc is detrimental to human, animal health –ScienceDaily


9) Diet and Nutrition –American Optometric Association.


10) The effects of zinc supplementation on wound healing…– US National Library of Medicine


11) Zinc status and serum testosterone levels of healthy adults — US National Library of Medicine


12) Improving Male Fertility -Today’sDietician


13) Lower serum zinc in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) —US National Library of Medicine


14) Zinc supplementation during pregnancy -WHO


15)  Role of zinc in pediatric diarrhea — US National Library of Medicine


16) US National Library of Medicine


17)   Correlation between the Severity and Type of Acne Lesions with Serum Zinc Levels in Patients with Acne Vulgaris — US National Library of Medicine


18) US National Library of Medicine


19) Effect of zinc sulfate supplementation on premenstrual syndrome and health-related quality of life: Clinical randomized controlled trial — US National Library of Medicine




This article is intended for informational purposes only. Any information associated with this article should not be considered as a substitute for prescription suggested by local health care professionals.


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