Think Zinc

Written By:

Maria Regina Pia D’Asis, MD

Think Zinc: Here are the Health Benefits of this Essential Micronutrient

Zinc is a very important micronutrient that is integral to a healthy diet. It is classified as a trace mineral and the recommended daily allowance for adults is 8 to 11 mg and 8 mg for children 9 to 13 years of age. When children are about 6 months old, it is important to start giving them foods with zinc. While the body only needs small amounts of zinc, it plays an important role in vital chemical reactions for almost 100 enzymes in our bodies.

Next to iron, zinc is the most common mineral in the body and is found in every cell. Ideally, our bodies absorb 20 - 40% of zinc from the food we eat. However, a study titled Zinc and Iron Nutrition Status in the Philippines Population and Local Soils which was published in June 2019 states that zinc deficiency (ZnD) is prevalent in 25.6% of the population, based on serum Zn level tests. The study breaks down the data by age group, placing the elderly >60 years old (36.3%), adults 20–59 years old (28.1%), and lactating women (25.2%), followed by adolescents (23.6%), and school children (21.6%), at high risk for Zn deficiency among the different populations and physiological groups in the country.1The US Center for Disease Control (CDC) notes that globally, 17.3% of the population is at risk for zinc deficiency due to dietary inadequacy and up to 30% of people are at risk in some regions of the world.

There are people who do not absorb zinc well due to digestive disorders such as inflammatory bowel diseases. Those who have undergone gastrointestinal surgery or have been diagnosed with chronic liver or kidney disease are also at risk. Excessive or prolonged diarrhea can also lead to zinc deficiency, burn patients and those with sepsis infections will also have increased need for zinc. Excessive alcohol consumption can also lead to zinc deficiency, because alcoholic beverages decrease the amount of zinc that the body absorbs and increase the amount lost in the urine.

Essential function

While zinc is often last in an alphabetical list of needed nutrients, it plays an important role in the immune system, reproductive health and growth. Sufficient amounts of this micronutrient in the body boosts the senses of taste, vision, and smell and helps with blood clotting and proper insulin and thyroid functions.

The benefits of getting adequate amounts of Zinc in the diet include:

  • Better immunity against infectious diseases including diarrhea, pneumonia and malaria.
  • Healthy pregnancies and reduction of incidences of premature birth.
  • Increased growth and weight gain among infants and young children.

Research is also being done on how zinc may help slow the progression of Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD), a condition that causes vision loss. In a large study among older people with AMD who were at high risk of developing advanced AMD, those who took a daily dietary supplement with 80 mg zinc, 500 mg Vitamin C, 400 IU vitamin E, 15 mg beta-carotene, and 2 mg copper for about 6 years had a lower chance of developing advanced AMD and less vision loss than those who did not take the dietary supplement. In the same study, people at high risk of the disease who took dietary supplements containing only zinc also had a lower risk of getting advanced AMD than those who did not take zinc dietary supplements. 1

Conversely, zinc deficiency can result in slow growth in infants and children, delayed sexual development in adolescents and impotence in men. It also causes hair loss, diarrhea, eye and skin sores and loss of appetite. Other health issues may also occur, such as weight loss, problems with wound healing, decreased ability to taste food, and lower levels of alertness.

If you are exhibiting these symptoms, a consultation with a doctor can help determine if you are getting adequate amounts in your diet. The doctor can order a blood test or urine test to check zinc levels, but these may not be conclusive because the mineral is only present in small amounts in the body. The tests will be given in conjunction with a check-up that looks into health history and dietary intake.

Dietary sources and supplements

Zinc is better absorbed when taken with a meal that contains protein. This is why zinc from red meat, fish, and poultry is more readily absorbed by the body than from plant-based foods.

Oysters are said to be the best source of zinc. Sufficient amounts can also be found in red meat and poultry, along with seafood such as shrimp and crab. Cheese lovers will be happy to note that their favorite dairy product is also a good source of this important mineral.

Plant-based sources include legumes such as beans, soybeans, and peanuts, but they also contain phytates that can bind to the mineral, lowering its absorption. Whole grains, miso, tofu, mushrooms, and green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale are also included in the list of zinc sources. Breakfast cereals are also fortified with zinc to give you a healthy start to your day.

For those who need to supplement their zinc intake, there are supplements that are available. Zinc is present in almost all multivitamin/mineral dietary supplements. There are also several different forms of zinc, including zinc gluconate, zinc sulfate and zinc acetate are available alone or in combination with calcium, magnesium or other ingredients in dietary supplements. Zinc can also be found in some over-the-counter medications such as lozenges for cold relief.


Palanog AD, Calayugan MIC, Descalsota-Empleo GI, et al. Zinc and Iron Nutrition Status in the Philippines Population and Local Soils. Front Nutr. 2019;6. doi:10.3389/fnut.2019.00081.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Micronutrient Facts

Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium, and Zinc . Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2001.

Age-Related Eye Disease Study Research Group. A randomized, placebo-controlled, clinical trial of high-dose supplementation with vitamins C and E, beta carotene, and zinc for age-related macular degeneration and vision loss: AREDS report no. 8 [published correction appears in Arch Ophthalmol. 2008 Sep;126(9):1251]. Arch Ophthalmol. 2001;119(10):1417-1436. doi:10.1001/archopht.119.10.1417