Zinc is perhaps most commonly known for being a natural treatment for the common cold—if taken properly, it can help shorten the time you’re sick and reduce your symptoms. And, though it is technically called a “trace” mineral, meaning the body needs only a small amount, it’s instrumental in helping our bodies function properly in many other ways.
If you are vegetarian, have a digestive condition, or are pregnant or lactating, you may be at higher risk of a zinc deficiency. Signs of a zinc deficiency may include frequent colds, nausea, poor wound healing, skin rash or ulcers, weight loss, hair loss, sexual dysfunction, or worsening asthma symptoms. These symptoms may be tough to pinpoint as a zinc deficiency, so check with a healthcare provider to assess your symptoms.
Most people don't need to take a zinc supplement, and taking too much zinc, especially over a longer period of time, can be harmful. However, if you are looking to blunt the blow of a nasty cold or find yourself experiencing symptoms of a zinc deficiency, a zinc supplement may be beneficial. To recommend the best zinc supplements, our dietitian used her clinical training and the latest research to evaluate the best supplements on the market. In order to safely apply these insights and choose a zinc supplement, consult with a healthcare provider to discuss the ideal form and dose for you.
Who May Benefit From Zinc
Those who have or are at risk of a zinc deficiency, those who are managing certain viruses, those looking to prevent or manage certain conditions, and older adults may benefit from zinc supplementation.
Correcting for a deficiency: Vegetarians, those with digestive conditions, and those who are pregnant or lactating may be at higher risk of a zinc deficiency and therefore may benefit from a supplement.
Treating a cold: Perhaps the most popularized use for zinc supplements is in treating cold symptoms and boosting the immune system. Zinc lozenges can help decrease the duration of a cold and reduce symptoms, but not prevent one from coming on. It is important to take zinc supplements properly when treating a cold:
- Take 6-10 lozenges dissolved slowly over time.
- Do not use this treatment for longer than a week at a time.
COVID-19: Though there have been limited studies on the impact of zinc supplements on symptoms and death from COVID-19, it is likely that zinc may help prevent or treat the virus alongside other treatments.
Eye health: Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of blindness in elderly people in the United States. Although zinc does not help in the early stages, high-dose zinc supplementation or zinc alongside antioxidants like vitamin C and E can slow the progression of advanced AMD.
Sperm health: If starting a family is on your to-do list, zinc might be a supplement that you, or your male partner, will want to consider for maximum sperm health. According to Mannaker, “sperm is extremely susceptible to cell damage, which can be a result of a variety of things, including being exposed to pollution, eating fried foods frequently, and living a stressful lifestyle.” Zinc acts as an antioxidant, helping support sperm health and reducing the risk of damage.
Blood sugar control: Low-dose zinc supplementation (less than 25 mg per day) for a long period of time may help lower blood sugar for those with type 2 diabetes.
Age-related decreases in zinc consumption: Older age can lead to challenges with appetite and adequate consumption. Up to 25% of adults, even those taking dietary supplements, may be under-consuming zinc and therefore might benefit from additional supplementation.
Additional Considerations for Supplementing with Zinc
If you are taking certain medications, it’s important that you speak with a healthcare provider before considering taking a zinc supplement.
- Antibiotics: Certain types of antibiotic medication, such as Cipro or Achromycin, can inhibit the body’s ability to absorb zinc and the antibiotic itself. Patients should be instructed to take the antibiotic two hours before or four to six hours after taking a zinc supplement. Similarly, if you take the drug penicillamine to treat rheumatoid arthritis you should also separate them by 2 hours for best absorption.
- Diuretics: If you are taking thiazide diuretics, which might be common if you have a heart condition, high blood pressure, or diabetes, have your zinc levels monitored closely as the body’s zinc can quickly become depleted through increased urination.
- ACE inhibitors: Blood pressure medications from the class called ACE inhibitors (ex. Enalapril, lisinopril) may decrease the levels of zinc in your blood.
- Cisplatin: This chemotherapy drug may cause more zinc to be excreted in your urine.
- NSAIDs: Medications like Advil or Motrin may be less efficiently absorbed and used in your body when taken with zinc.
- Penicillamine: Levels of zinc in your blood may decrease when taking this drug, which is used to treat Wilson’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis.