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Zinc

What does zinc do?
Zinc is an essential mineral that 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,1 2 3 but have been ineffective in children.4 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.

Lozenges containing zinc gluconate, zinc gluconate-glycine, or zinc acetate have been effective, whereas most other forms of zinc and lozenges flavored with citric acid,5 tartaric acid, sorbitol, or mannitol, have been ineffective.6 Trials using forms other than zinc gluconate, zinc gluconate-glycine, or zinc acetate have failed, as have trials that use insufficient amounts of zinc.7 Therefore, until more is known, people should only use zinc gluconate, zinc gluconate-glycine, or zinc acetate.

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.8 9 10 Whether such supplementation would help people in better nourished populations remains unclear.

A small, preliminary trial has found zinc sulfate to be effective for contact dermatitis (a skin rash caused by contact with an allergen or irritant).11 Participants with active skin rashes took approximately 23 mg of zinc (in the form of zinc sulfate) three times daily, for one month. 73% of those taking the zinc sulfate had complete resolution of their skin rashes, while the remaining participants had a 50–75% improvement. Further trials are needed to confirm these preliminary findings, however.

Where is zinc found?
Good sources of zinc include oysters, meat, eggs, seafood, black-eyed peas, tofu, and wheat germ.

Zinc has been used in connection with the following conditions
(refer to the individual health concern for complete information)

Rating
Health Concerns
dsd

Acne
Acrodermatitis enteropathica
Childhood intelligence (for deficiency)
Common cold/sore throat (as lozenges)
Down's syndrome
Down’s syndrome
Infertility (male) (for deficiency)
Night blindness (for deficiency)
Wilson’s disease
Wound healing (oral and topical)

sd

Anemia (for thalassemia if deficient)
Anorexia nervosa
Birth defects prevention
Canker sores (for deficiency only)
Celiac disease (for deficiency)
Cold sores (topical)
Common cold (as nasal spray)
Crohn’s disease
Diabetes (preferably for those with a documented deficiency)
Genital herpes
Gingivitis (zinc plus bloodroot toothpaste)
Halitosis (zinc chloride rinse or toothpaste)
Hepatitis C (zinc-L-carnosine)
HIV support
Immune function (for elderly people)
Infection
Liver cirrhosis (for deficiency)
Macular degeneration
Peptic ulcer
Pregnancy support
Rheumatoid arthritis
Sickle cell anemia
Skin ulcers (oral and topical zinc)
Sprains and strains (if deficient)
Tinnitus (for deficiency only)
Warts

sd

Amenorrhea
Athletic performance
Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH)
Contact dermatitis
Cystic fibrosis
Dermatitis herpetiformis (for deficiency)
Diarrhea
Ear infections (recurrent)
Gastritis
Gestational hypertension
Goiter
Hypoglycemia
Hypothyroidism
Immune function (for non-elderly people)
Insulin resistance syndrome (Syndrome X)
Osgood-Schlatter Disease
Osteoarthritis (in combination with boswellia, ashwagandha, and turmeric)
Osteoporosis
Pre- and post-surgery health
Preeclampsia
Prostatitis (CBP, NBP)

Reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
Contradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
For an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support and/or minimal health benefit.

 

Who is likely to be deficient of zinc?
Zinc deficiencies are quite common in people living in poor countries. Phytate, a substance found in unleavened bread (pita, matzos, and some crackers) significantly reduces absorption of zinc, increasing the chance of zinc deficiency. However, phytate-induced deficiency of zinc appears to be a significant problem only for people already consuming marginally low amounts of zinc.

Even in developed countries, low-income pregnant women and pregnant teenagers are at risk for marginal zinc deficiencies. Supplementing with 25–30 mg per day improves pregnancy outcome in these groups.12 13

People with liver cirrhosis appear to be commonly deficient in zinc.14 This deficiency may be due to cirrhosis-related zinc malabsorption.15

People with Down’s syndrome are also commonly deficient in zinc.16 Giving zinc supplements to children with Down’s syndrome has been reported to improve impaired immunity17 and thyroid function,18 though optimal intake of zinc for people with Down’s syndrome remains unclear.

Children with alopecia areata (patchy areas of hair loss) have been reported to be deficient in zinc.19 20

The average diet frequently provides less than the Recommended Dietary Allowance for zinc, particularly in vegetarians. To what extent (if any) these small deficits in zinc intake create clinical problems remains unclear. Nonetheless, a low-potency supplement (15 mg per day) can fill in dietary gaps. Zinc deficiencies are more common in alcoholics and people with sickle cell anemia, malabsorption problems, and chronic kidney disease.21

How much zinc is usually taken?
Moderate intake of zinc, approximately 15 mg daily, is adequate to prevent deficiencies. Higher levels (up to 50 mg taken three times per day) are reserved for people with certain health conditions, under the supervision of a doctor. For the alleviation of cold symptoms, lozenges providing 13–25 mg of zinc in the form zinc gluconate, zinc gluconate-glycine, or zinc acetate are generally used frequently but only for several days.

Are there any side effects or interactions with zinc?
Zinc intake in excess of 300 mg per day has been reported to impair immune function.22 Some people report that zinc lozenges lead to stomach ache, nausea, mouth irritation, and a bad taste. One source reports that gastrointestinal upset, metallic taste in the mouth, blood in the urine, and lethargy can occur from chronic oral zinc supplementation over 150 mg per day,23 but those claims are unsubstantiated. In topical form, zinc has no known side effects when used as recommended.

Preliminary research had suggested that people with Alzheimer’s disease should avoid zinc supplements.24 More recently, preliminary evidence in four patients actually showed improved mental function with zinc supplementation.25 In a convincing review of zinc/Alzheimer’s disease research, perhaps the most respected zinc researcher in the world concluded that zinc does not cause or exacerbate Alzheimer’s disease symptoms.26

Zinc inhibits copper absorption. Copper deficiency can result in anemia, lower levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol, or cardiac arrhythmias.27 28 29 Copper intake should be increased if zinc supplementation continues for more than a few days (except for people with Wilson’s disease).30 Some sources recommend a 10:1 ratio of zinc to copper. Evidence suggests that no more that 2 mg of copper per day is needed to prevent zinc-induced copper deficiency. Many zinc supplements include copper in the formulation to prevent zinc-induced copper deficiency. Zinc-induced copper deficiency has been reported to cause reversible anemia and suppression of bone marrow.31

Marginal zinc deficiency may be a contributing factor in some cases of anemia. In a study of women with normocytic anemia (i.e., their red blood cells were of normal size) and low total iron-binding capacity (a blood test often used to assess the cause of anemia), combined iron and zinc supplementation significantly improved the anemia, whereas iron or zinc supplemented alone had only slight effects.32 Supplementation with zinc, or zinc and iron together, has been found to improve vitamin A status among children at high risk for deficiency of the three nutrients.33

Zinc competes for absorption with copper, iron,34 35 calcium,36 and magnesium.37 A multimineral supplement will help prevent mineral imbalances that can result from taking high amounts of zinc for extended periods of time.

N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) may increase urinary excretion of zinc.38 Long-term users of NAC may consider adding supplements of zinc and copper.

Are there any drug interactions?
Certain medicines may interact with zinc. Refer to drug interactions for a list of those medicines.

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