Zinc is a component
of more than 300 enzymes needed to repair wounds, maintain fertility in
adults and growth in children, synthesize protein, help cells
reproduce, preserve vision, boost immunity, and protect against free
radicals, among other functions.
In double-blind trials, zinc lozenges have reduced the duration of
colds in adults, but have been ineffective in children. The ability of
zinc to shorten colds may be due to a direct, localized anti-viral
action in the throat. For the alleviation of cold symptoms, lozenges
providing 13–25 mg of zinc, in the form of zinc gluconate, zinc
gluconate-glycine, or zinc acetate, are used, typically every two hours
while awake, but only for several days. The best effect is obtained
when lozenges are used at the first sign of a cold.
Zinc reduces the body’s ability to utilize the essential mineral
copper. (For healthy people, this interference is circumvented by
supplementing with copper, along with zinc.) The ability to interfere
with copper makes zinc an important therapeutic tool for people with
Wilson’s disease—a genetic condition that causes copper overload.
Zinc supplementation in children in developing countries is associated
with improvements in stunted growth, increased weight gain in
underweight children, and substantial reductions in the rates of
diarrhea and pneumonia, the two leading causes of death in these
settings. Whether such supplementation would help people in better
nourished populations remains unclear.
Who may need extra zinc?
Medical doctors who suspect a zinc deficiency will consider risk
factors such as inadequate caloric intake, alcoholism, digestive
diseases, and symptoms such as impaired growth in infants and children
when determining a need for zinc supplementation. Vegetarians may need
as much as 50% more zinc than non-vegetarians because of the lower
absorption of zinc from plant foods, so it is very important for
vegetarians to include good sources of zinc in their diet.
Maternal zinc deficiency can slow fetal growth. Zinc supplementation
has improved growth rate in some children who demonstrate mild to
moderate growth failure and who also have a zinc deficiency.
Breastfeeding also may deplete maternal zinc stores because of the
greater need for zinc during lactation. It is important for mothers who
breast-feed to include good sources of zinc in their daily diet and for
pregnant women to follow their doctor’s advice about taking vitamin and
Low zinc status has been observed in 30% to 50% of alcoholics. Alcohol
decreases the absorption of zinc and increases loss of zinc in urine.
In addition, many alcoholics do not eat an acceptable variety or amount
of food, so their dietary intake of zinc may be inadequate.
Diarrhea results in a loss of zinc. Individuals who have had
gastrointestinal surgery or who have digestive disorders that result in
malabsorption, including sprue, Crohn’s disease and short bowel
syndrome, are at greater risk of a zinc deficiency. Individuals who
experience chronic diarrhea should make sure they include sources of
zinc in their daily diet and may benefit from zinc supplementation.
What foods provide zinc?
Zinc is found in a wide variety of foods. Oysters contain more zinc per
serving than any other food, but red meat and poultry provide the
majority of zinc in the American diet. Other good food sources include
beans, nuts, certain seafood, whole grains, fortified breakfast
cereals, and dairy products. Zinc absorption is greater from a diet
high in animal protein than a diet rich in plant proteins.
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information provided on this website is not a substitute for the advice
of a licensed medical practitioner. Individuals are advised not to
self-medicate in the presence of significant illness. Ingredients in
supplements are not drugs and may not be foods.