Zinc is an antioxidant that occurs naturally in many foods, such as beans, meat, and fish. It supports immune function and may help treat diarrhea, promote wound healing, and more.

In addition to supporting the immune system, zinc enables the body to make proteins and DNA and plays a role in childhood growth and development.

Zinc occurs naturally in many foods, such as beans, meat, and fish. It is also available as a dietary supplement.

This article looks at the health benefits of zinc, what happens if someone does not have enough, and useful sources.

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Zinc is crucial for various bodily functions, including immune function, wound healing, chronic conditions, and more.

The following foods are suitable natural sources of zinc:

Some plant-based foods, such as beans, nuts, and whole grains, contain zinc, but zinc absorption from these foods is lower than with animal products.

If a person does not eat animal products, they may wish to consider taking zinc supplements.

The next sections look at 10 possible benefits of zinc.

The body needs zinc for the immune system to work properly. Low levels of zinc can increase the risk of infections, such as pneumonia.

How can you stay healthy with a weak immune system?

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends zinc supplements for infants with diarrhea.

There is evidence that it can shorten bouts of diarrhea, especially in those who do not have a nutritious diet.

Zinc plays a role in maintaining healthy skin.

People with long-term wounds or ulcers often have low zinc levels. Healthcare professionals may recommend zinc supplements for people with persistent wounds.

Research from 2017 notes that zinc plays a key role in every stage of wound healing, from skin repair to preventing infections.

The authors call for more studies to identify precisely how zinc works in healing wounds. They say this could lead to new treatments for wounds that are difficult to heal.

Find out how to make a wound heal faster.

Zinc has antioxidant properties. As such, it can help reduce oxidative stress.

Scientists believe that there is a link between oxidative stress and chronic diseases, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and other aspects of metabolic syndrome.

Research from 2017 suggests that zinc may help prevent metabolic syndrome. The authors recommend further studies to identify how zinc affects health and to see whether supplementation might be useful as a therapy.

Zinc prevents cell damage in the retina and may help delay the progression of age-related macular degeneration and vision loss, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). However, it is unlikely to prevent degeneration.

The authors of research from 2020 have found that a zinc deficiency may play a role in developing this degeneration. They call for further studies and suggest that zinc might contribute to new treatment approaches.

Overall, some studies suggest that supplementation may help, but the evidence is not conclusive.

The authors of research from 2018 describe zinc as essential to male sexual health. Reasons for this could include zinc’s roles as an antioxidant and hormone balancer.

Low zinc levels may also lead to delayed maturation, which could imply further physical or mental development delays later in life, including sexual health issues.

However, while a zinc deficiency can have negative effects, too much zinc may lead to toxicity, which could be harmful to sperm.

Anyone considering zinc supplements to support their sexual health can speak with a doctor.

There is some evidence that zinc may help treat some skin diseases, as it plays a role in wound healing.

Research suggests that zinc may help treat:

Here, learn more about using zinc to treat acne.

Zinc plays an essential role in bone formation and health and may help prevent osteoporosis, according to research from 2020.

However, it remains unclear whether zinc supplementation can prevent or treat this condition, and further research is necessary.

Find out how to increase bone density naturally.

A small study from 2020 concluded that there may be a link between low zinc levels and neurological symptoms.

Researchers examined 63 people who had headaches, tingling, peripheral neuropathy, and deficiencies in zinc and other micronutrients.

After treatment for these deficiencies, the participants reported improvements in their neurological symptoms. However, the researchers acknowledge the need for further research.

People with type 2 diabetes often have low zinc levels. Zinc may also be helpful in lowering blood sugar and cholesterol levels, so zinc supplementation may be helpful for type 2 diabetes.

A 2019 review of multiple studies concluded that zinc supplementation might benefit type 2 diabetes by helping control blood sugar levels.

Additionally, a 2023 meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials concluded that zinc supplementation may have benefits for managing type 2 diabetes. However, the researchers stated that experts need to conduct more in-depth research into this topic.

Further resources

For more in-depth resources about vitamins, minerals, and supplements, visit our dedicated hub.

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Some researchers have suggested that maintaining adequate zinc levels could possibly offer some protection against COVID-19.

One 2020 review notes that zinc helps support the immune system and maintain mucous membranes. People with zinc deficiencies appear to have a higher risk of various infections, including pneumonia.

However, it is important to note that while zinc may support a person’s overall health and ability to resist disease, there is currently no evidence that it can prevent or treat COVID-19.

Moreover, some zinc products can interfere with a person’s sense of smell.

Read 29 myths about COVID-19.

An adequate zinc intake is especially important for children because it plays a role in their development.

The following table shows the recommended daily allowance of zinc in milligrams (mg), according to a person’s age and sex:

0 to 6 months2 mg2 mg
7 to 12 months3 mg3 mg
1 to 3 years3 mg3 mg
4 to 8 years5 mg5 mg
9 to 13 years8 mg8 mg
14 to 18 years11 mg9 mg
19 years and over11 mg8 mg

During pregnancy and chest or breastfeeding, a higher intake of zinc is necessary because newborns and infants up to 6 months obtain zinc through breast milk.

Suitable sources of zinc include:

  • beans
  • meats
  • nuts
  • fish
  • seafood
  • whole grain cereals
  • dairy products
  • some fortified foods

Anyone with a plant-based diet may need additional zinc supplementation because the zinc available in these foods is harder for the body to absorb.

Zinc is available in capsules, tablets, creams, ointments, and a liquid form.

Adults ages 19 years and over who are interested in using zinc supplements need to be careful to consume no more than 40 mg daily. Too much zinc can cause health problems.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate supplements. It is best to check the label for third-party testing or certification for safety and quality.

Zinc supplements are available to purchase online. However, it is best to consult a doctor before trying them.

A zinc deficiency can increase the risk of various problems, including:

  • delayed growth in children
  • a loss of appetite
  • changes in taste
  • a higher risk of infections
  • fertility problems
  • diarrhea
  • problems with wound healing
  • eye and skin lesions

According to research from 2017, there is strong evidence that low zinc levels can increase the risk of infectious diseases such as malaria, HIV, tuberculosis, measles, and pneumonia.

A zinc deficiency usually results from an insufficient dietary intake, but it can also result from malabsorption and chronic illnesses such as diabetes, cancer, liver disease, and sickle cell disease.

Learn more about zinc deficiencies.

Zinc has many health benefits, but consuming too much can be harmful. Possible adverse effects include:

The recommended intake for adults over 19 years is 40 mg per day. Very high doses of around 142 mg daily can interfere with a person’s magnesium absorption and disrupt their magnesium balance.

Zinc may also interact with antibiotics and diuretics.

Zinc is essential for health and plays a key role in childhood development, the immune system, wound healing, and other functions.

It is best to obtain zinc from foods such as beans, seafood, and fortified products. A doctor may prescribe supplements if there is a risk of a deficiency.

People who are pregnant, chest or breastfeeding, or following a plant-based diet require extra zinc. However, as always, a person needs to check with a doctor before using a supplement.