Zinc is an irreplaceable part of our body that is essential for a variety of processes and functions. Nevertheless, there is a great deal of ignorance in large parts of the population as to why zinc is so important and how much the body needs on a daily basis.
This article should therefore serve to answer your questions about how zinc works and the daily requirement and to clear up any doubts you may have.
the essentials in brief
- Zinc is one of the essential trace elements. These fulfill various functions in the body and are therefore essential for human life.
- The daily zinc requirement varies according to gender and age. There are also special rules for vegetarians/vegans, athletes, pregnant/lactating women and people with metabolic disorders.
- As a rule, the zinc daily requirement can be covered with a healthy and balanced diet. Supplementing with zinc preparations is only appropriate in exceptional cases.
What is zinc?
Like many other substances, zinc is one of the so-called trace elements. These are chemical elements that occur in very small amounts in the human body and are nevertheless essential to life.
Trace elements occur in the human body in mass fractions of no more than 50 mg per kilogram of body weight.
Depending on age, gender and body size, there are around two to four grams of zinc in the human body. However, the human body can neither produce zinc itself nor store it in the long term.
Therefore, the daily zinc supply from the outside must be ensured. This usually happens through the intake of zinc through food. In some cases, however, it is advisable to take zinc preparations as a dietary supplement.
What are the functions of zinc in the body?
Zinc is a true all-round talent and supports important metabolic processes throughout the body. Zinc is a component or activator of over 300 enzymes.
We summarize some of the functions of zinc in the following table:
|operation area||mode of action|
|skin||Zinc reduces sebum production and is a successful anti-acne remedy (1)|
|A cold||Zinc shortens the duration of cold symptoms (2)|
|immune system||Zinc helps to strengthen the immune system(3)|
|Sleep||A balanced zinc household can improve the duration and quality of sleep (4)|
Above all, an adequate supply of zinc has a prophylactic effect on a large number of complaints. We will show you the problems that can occur as a result of a zinc deficiency in one of the following sections.
Who should take zinc?
This question can be answered very briefly and in general: Zinc intake is vital for everyone, regardless of age or gender.
Since zinc is one of the essential trace elements and our body cannot produce zinc itself, we must ensure an adequate supply of zinc.
Basically, a balanced diet is sufficient. Anyone who eats a varied and healthy diet should usually automatically cover their daily zinc requirement.
In the following sections we will show you which foods are particularly high in zinc and for whom zinc preparations are appropriate as dietary supplements.
Which foods contain zinc?
A balanced diet is essential so that you can cover your zinc daily requirement without dietary supplements. Some foods are particularly suitable as zinc suppliers.
The table below can help you identify sources of zinc to ensure a healthy diet.
|Omnivorous||red meat, offal|
|pescetarian||Oysters, shrimp, fish|
|vegetarian||Eggs, yoghurt, hard cheese|
|vegan||Lentils, Brazil nuts, wholemeal bread|
Many herbal products contain phytic acid. This forms a complex compound with the zinc and thus makes it more difficult for the body to absorb zinc.
Vegetarians and vegans in particular should therefore make sure that zinc from plant products is not as easy to absorb as from animal products. Therefore, vegetarians and vegans also belong to the risk group for zinc deficiency.
Should I take zinc supplements?
Since there is a certain amount of zinc in most foods, a balanced and healthy diet can already be enough to completely cover the daily zinc requirement.
Children and young people are strongly discouraged from taking zinc supplements.
Zinc preparations should therefore only be taken in exceptional cases and only after a visit to the family doctor.
Taking zinc supplements can lead to an overdose. Therefore, find out from a doctor beforehand about the need and correct dosage. (Image source: Michael Longmire / unsplash)
Nevertheless, there are justified cases in which taking zinc supplements can be very useful and important. There are some groups of people who are particularly susceptible to zinc deficiency.
Zinc deficiency risk groups include:
- Vegetarians / vegans
- Pregnant / lactating women
- Persons with metabolic diseases
If you belong to one of these groups and have symptoms of a zinc deficiency, then you should definitely consult a doctor. In the following section we will show you how you can recognize a possible zinc deficiency.
What are the effects of zinc deficiency?
We already highlighted the functions and positive effects of a healthy zinc balance on your body at the beginning of this article.
All of this does not apply if you have a zinc deficiency. Your skin is more prone to breakouts and inflammation, your immune system is weakened and your colds last longer.
In addition, however, there are a number of other proven effects of zinc deficiency. These include, among others:
- hair loss (5.6)
- Depression (7)
- brittle nails (8)
- growth disorders (9)
However, all of these symptoms are not solely due to zinc deficiency. If you experience these or other symptoms, you should definitely consult a doctor.
Can you overdose on zinc?
Theoretically, an overdose of zinc is possible, but usually very unlikely. Especially with a regular diet, an overdose can be almost completely ruled out.
On the one hand, this is because food contains only a very small amount of zinc. Even beef, which is one of the most zinc-rich foods, contains around 4 - 6mg of zinc per 100g.
In order to speak of a zinc overdose in humans, a quantity of about 200 - 400 mg is necessary (10). Accordingly, such amounts cannot be achieved through pure food intake.
The risk of an overdose therefore only exists with excessive consumption of zinc preparations. Such an overdose is then manifested by the following characteristics:
If you have any of these symptoms and you are taking zinc supplements, you should stop taking them immediately and consult a doctor.
What is the zinc daily requirement?
So far we have shown you what zinc actually is. In addition, you know how it works and you know why the correct dosage is of great importance for you and your body.
In the following we would like to show you how high the daily requirement is for different groups of people. Only if you know your daily zinc requirement can you ensure an adequate supply.
What is the daily zinc requirement for adults?
The daily requirement of zinc, especially for adults, depends primarily on their daily intake of phytate. As already mentioned, this substance binds zinc and thus makes it more difficult for the body to absorb it.
In the table below, we provide you with an overview of the approximate daily zinc requirement of a person from the age of about 19 (11).
|low phytate intake: 11mg||low phytate intake: 7mg|
|average phytate intake: 14mg||average phytate intake: 8mg|
|high phytate intake: 16mg||high phytate intake: 10mg|
A low phytate intake describes a diet in which the zinc intake occurs primarily from animal products and above all meat and offal. The amount is about 330mg phytate per day.
A medium phytate intake corresponds to a very balanced diet that includes fish and meat as well as nuts and legumes. The amount of phytate in this case is about 660mg per day.
A high phytate intake can be found above all in vegetarian or vegan diets, in which mainly unfermented whole grain products such as soy are consumed. Here the phytate intake is around 990 mg per day and thus makes it more difficult to absorb zinc.
How high is the zinc daily requirement of children and babies?
Babies and children naturally have a much lower daily zinc requirement than adults. Nevertheless, an adequate supply is important, since zinc plays an important role, especially in growth (9)
Between the ages of 0 and about 10 years, there are no significant differences in the daily requirement of zinc between boys and girls. The recommended amounts for the different age groups can be found in the table below.
|Old||Zinc daily requirement|
Only from around the age of 10 do increasing differences in the daily requirement between boys and girls appear.
From the age of 10 to 13 years, the need for zinc in boys is around 9 mg per day, in girls it is slightly less at around 8 mg.
Between the ages of 13 and 15, boys need around 12mg of zinc per day, while girls only need around 10mg.
The differences in the age group of around 15-19 years are even greater. In this area, the daily requirement of boys is around 14mg, which is 3mg higher than that of girls, which is around 11mg.
What is the zinc daily requirement during and after pregnancy?
Especially during and immediately after pregnancy, it is important that the body is sufficiently supplied with all the necessary substances. How high the daily requirement is depends on the one hand on the phytate intake. The current stage of pregnancy also plays an important role.
During pregnancy, the mother not only has to provide herself but also her child with sufficient nutrients. Therefore, the daily zinc requirement increases. (Image source: pixabay / Free-Photos>
In the first trimester of pregnancy, the daily zinc requirement is still relatively similar to the normal requirement of an adult woman. The daily requirement is 7 mg for low phytate intake, 9 mg for medium phytate intake and about 11 mg for high phytate intake.
In the second and third trimester of pregnancy there is already a significantly increased need. With low phytate intake about 9mg per day is needed, with medium phytate intake about 11mg per day and with high phytate intake about 13mg per day.
However, the highest daily requirement for zinc is during breastfeeding. There, the mother needs about 11mg of zinc per day on a low phytate intake, 13mg on a medium phytate intake, and about 14mg on a high phytate intake.
How high is the zinc daily requirement of athletes?
High-performance athletes in particular represent a risk group for zinc deficiency. A considerable amount of zinc is excreted both through increased perspiration and through the urine (12,13).
Of course, this deficit needs to be compensated for. Here, too, a balanced diet adapted to one's lifestyle should be able to cover the increased daily zinc requirement. Zinc supplements should only be used in exceptional cases.
How far above the normal level the daily zinc requirement is for athletes cannot be answered in general terms. Both the frequency, duration and intensity of sports units have a major impact on demand.
Therefore, it is best to consult a doctor and have your levels tested. In this way you can prevent a possible deficiency or take countermeasures in good time.
Can the daily zinc requirement be covered with food?
Even if zinc is an essential trace element and therefore indispensable for the human body, it still gets by with a relatively small amount. Since zinc is also contained in many foods, the daily zinc requirement is usually covered exclusively by the food consumed.
Since meat, fish and other animal products in particular are good suppliers of zinc, a vegetarian or vegan diet can still lead to a zinc deficiency. In this case, however, zinc preparations do not necessarily have to be used. A more balanced and conscious diet can often compensate for the deficit in this case as well.
Various nuts, kernels and legumes are also suitable for vegans as zinc suppliers. (Image source: Maddi Bazzocco / unsplash)
As long as you are not affected by a metabolic disease, the daily zinc requirement of almost everyone can be covered through food. This also applies to people with special diets, high-performance athletes or pregnant women.
As you can see, there is a lot to know about the all-rounder zinc. How high your daily zinc requirement is depends on a variety of factors such as your gender, your age and your diet.
As long as you ensure a varied and balanced diet, you should not actually come into contact with a zinc deficiency. If you do notice any of these symptoms, consult a doctor first. After all, an overdose of zinc can ultimately do more harm than good.
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- Elmadfa / Leitzmann. nutrition of humans. 3rd edition UTB. 1998 Source
- Zinc is especially important when it comes to growth. The smaller the person, the more Yin Y, Li Y, Li Q, et al. Evaluation of the Relationship Between Height and Zinc, Copper, Iron, Calcium, and Magnesium Levels in Healthy Young Children in Beijing, China. Biol Trace Elem Res. 2017;176(2):244-250. doi:10.1007/s12011-016-0830-0 one can assume that as a child he suffered from a zinc deficiency. In children, the trace element has a particularly sensitive correlation with the concentration of other minerals. Source
- Institute of Medicine (US) Panel on Micronutrients. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium, and Zinc. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2001 Source
- Hajo Haase, Sabine Ellinger, Jakob Linseisen, Monika Neuhäuser-Berthold, Margrit Richter, Revised DA-CH reference values for the intake of zinc, Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology, Volume 61, 2020 Source
- Chu A, Petocz P, Samman S. Plasma/Serum Zinc Status During Aerobic Exercise Recovery: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Med. 2017;47(1):127-134. doi:10.1007/s40279-016-0567-0 Source
- Chu A, Holdaway C, Varma T, Petocz P, Samman S. Lower Serum Zinc Concentration Despite Higher Dietary Zinc Intake in Athletes: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Sports Med. 2018;48(2):327-336. doi:10.1007/s40279-017-0818-8 Source