Zinc is an essential trace mineral for human health and is found in a variety of natural foods and almost every multivitamin-multimineral formula available. It’s known mostly for its immune supporting benefits, but its impact is far and wide throughout the human body.
A trace element, zinc plays an essential role in many systems within the body, including organs, gastrointestinal tract, central nervous system, immune function, skeletal system and reproduction.
What Are the Benefits of Zinc?
Zinc is vital for healthy immune system function, DNA synthesis and normal human growth and development, especially during pregnancy and early childhood. The human body needs zinc to activate T lymphocytes, also known as T cells—a critical component to a well functioning immune response. Zinc also plays a role in skin health and skin integrity. Many creams and lotions designed for infants contain zinc to help protect their delicate skin.
Zinc was a central focus of a large study looking into age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and vision health. The study found promising results for a combination of beta-carotene along with vitamins C and E in the fight against AMD, but only when zinc was also present.
How is Zinc Used in the Body?
Your body uses zinc to make proteins and DNA, the genetic material found in every living cell. Zinc is also a valuable nutrient for supporting immune system function. Zinc also helps with skin health and, when combined with other key vitamins and minerals, vision health.
Zinc is involved in numerous aspects of cellular metabolism, as it is essential for the catalytic activities of about 100 different enzymes. For pregnant women, zinc is a vital nutrient, as it supports normal growth and development of the baby during pregnancy and early childhood. Importantly, the human body has no built-in storage process for zinc, so regular intake is essential to maintain an adequate supply.
Zinc is found in almost every multivitamin combination formula, but it’s also found in immune health formulas, vision health formulas, prostate health formulas and some homeopathic remedies formulated to fight off the common cold.
Zinc supplements feature different forms of zinc, including zinc gluconate, zinc sulfate and zinc acetate. The actual amount of elemental zinc will vary based on which form is used. For example, a 220 mg serving of zinc sulfate only contains 50 mg of elemental zinc (the elemental amount is what appears on the Supplement Facts label). To date, research has not conclusively found that one form of zinc is better than another in terms of absorption, bioavailability or tolerability.
What are the Food Sources of Zinc?
Unlike some important nutrients, zinc is reasonably easy to find in a typical diet, and adult men and women can get the recommended 8 to 11 mg of daily zinc they need from diet alone. Food sources of zinc include red meat, poultry and seafood (especially oysters, crab and lobster). Fortified breakfast cereals are also a reliable source of dietary zinc, as are whole grains, nuts, seeds and dairy products.
Most Americans are getting enough zinc through diet alone, but certain groups should watch their intake more closely. People with digestive health or GI concerns may have trouble absorbing zinc and other nutrients. Vegans and vegetarians should also monitor their intake, as the beans and grains they likely eat may contain compounds that prevent zinc from being fully absorbed by the body.