The effects of zinc are primarily associated with wound healing and the relief of colds. In addition, the use of zinc is also associated with various other areas such as the complexion, muscle building or the function of the brain. In fact, the trace element has many uses in medicine and nutrition.
In this article we would like to give you an overview of the effects of zinc. We show what you need zinc for, how it works and what else needs to be considered on the subject. In the following you will get a neutral insight that should help you to better understand the trace element zinc in the context of your diet and health.
the essentials in brief
- Zinc is a vital trace element for the human body, which contributes significantly to our health in many places. The list of areas of activity is long.
- The metal is an important part of most metabolic processes. Zinc contributes to healthy cell and tissue production, a strengthened immune system, an intact nervous system and much more.
- Zinc as a dietary supplement only makes sense for certain groups of people, since normal nutrition usually covers the requirement. Zinc deficiency is just as dangerous for the body as an overdose.
Effects of zinc: what you should know
From a stronger immune system to better complexion, the mineral zinc is known to help with a whole host of ailments.
In the following we explain all the important information about the effects of zinc. You will find out when it makes sense to take zinc at all and, above all, where and how it works in your body.
What is zinc and what does my body need it for?
Zinc is a gray-bluish metal that is often used in alloys with other metals. Iron and steel products are often galvanized to resist rusting. The metal can also be found in the human body, but only in very small amounts as a so-called trace element.
Despite the small amount of zinc in our body, it contributes significantly to our well-being. The two to four grams of zinc found on average in an adult body have many implications. Zinc plays an important role in many metabolic processes because it is contained in various enzymes. This even makes the mineral essential for life.
Since zinc cannot be produced by the body itself, it must be supplied to the body regularly, ideally through food.
In addition, it can only be stored in the body's own organs for short periods of time. Whether in the liver, kidneys or pancreas, zinc is needed everywhere and is one of the trace elements most commonly found in the body.
Cell division and protein metabolism are just two examples of bodily processes in which zinc is involved. Here is an overview of where the trace elements are used and how they contribute to your health:
- metabolic activities
- effects of hormones
- Function of the immune system (10)
- Protein and DNA synthesis
- growth in children (23)
- storage of insulin
- Cognitive Skills (1)
- Intact skin and hair (13)
- Sperm production in men (21)
- cell division
- Intact nails and bones
As you can see, zinc is a real all-rounder and an important part of most processes in the human body. Many bodily functions are maintained by zinc, among other things, which is why zinc deficiency can be dangerous under certain circumstances (8).
What effects does zinc have?
Zinc acts in many places in the body. The spectrum of health benefits is very wide. That is why we have summarized the most important effects for you here.
The performance of your brain and thus that of your body is largely dependent on what are known as neurotransmitters. These are practically the messenger substances that enable the signal transmission between the nerve cells. The production of these neurotransmitters is dependent on zinc.
Dietary supplements with zinc promote mental development and motor skills even in infants. (Image source: Robina Weermeijer/ unsplash)
An important group of neurotransmitters are hormones. Hormones like serotonin, dopamine, and GABA can make you feel relaxed, happy, or motivated. On the other hand, if there is a zinc deficiency, this has a correspondingly negative effect on your psyche (2), emotional state and general mood.
Zinc has been proven to improve your memory.
Zinc also plays a central role in growth (23). If women consume more zinc during pregnancy, this results in better cognitive abilities in the children (1). In contrast, as with neurotransmitters, a zinc deficiency leads to poorer cognitive abilities in children.
But zinc also makes a contribution in a completely different area: muscle building. Relaxation phases for regeneration are very important so that muscles can be built up. The hormone testosterone contributes significantly to this regeneration. Zinc, in turn, ensures that testosterone levels remain at a steady level (21).
Another important area of action of zinc is the immune system (10). Zinc supplements are often recommended for colds because they activate virus-fighting T helper cells.
Symptoms may be less severe and you'll recover faster after taking zinc, but zinc doesn't prevent infection (6). Zinc strengthens the immune system and has an overall wound-healing and anti-inflammatory effect.
Zinc builds up and stabilizes tissues and cells. Among other things, your bones, hair and nails are strengthened by the trace element. Zinc also strengthens your sense of smell and vision and supports blood clotting and thyroid function. (3)
Is it worth taking zinc?
Normally, in healthy people who eat a balanced diet, zinc requirements are met through food intake. In certain cases, it may still be necessary to take zinc as a preparation or dietary supplement.
Pregnant women, for example, have an increased need for zinc. Zinc also affects the growth development of offspring (22). Whether and in what dosage, however, a dietary supplement is used should be discussed with a doctor.
|group of people||Use of zinc as a dietary supplement|
|healthy adults||An additional intake of zinc is usually not useful. With a healthy lifestyle, you already absorb enough zinc. Extra intake is even more harmful.|
|Adults with zinc deficiency||In the case of zinc deficiency, it makes sense to take zinc supplements over a limited period of time. However, reasons for a zinc deficiency are very individual and difficult to determine. Therefore, consult a doctor to get the right dosage if necessary.|
|infants and children||Children and infants should generally not take zinc supplements over a long period of time, even though they have a higher zinc requirement. Overdosing can damage the immune system.|
|Seniors||It has been proven that zinc neutralizes components in the body that accelerate the aging process. Seniors also often suffer from zinc deficiency (7). In consultation with a doctor, taking zinc can help.|
|pregnant women||Pregnant women have an increased need for zinc. The additional intake of zinc has a positive effect on the course of pregnancy, one's own health and the health of the offspring (22).|
|competitive athlete||When exercising intensely, a large amount of zinc is lost from the body through perspiration. Zinc is also needed for muscle regeneration. Adapted dosages are therefore recommended for athletes.|
Meat is considered one of the most important sources of zinc. Vegetarians and vegans should therefore always keep an eye on their zinc supply (5). Similar to pregnant women, however, athletes have an increased need for zinc. Here, too, the dosed, additional intake of zinc makes sense.
Zinc can also help with some diseases. A supplemental intake of zinc can be useful, for example, in the case of chronic diseases of the gastrointestinal tract. Zinc is also helpful in acute illnesses such as diarrhea, which are associated with severe zinc loss.
Children and adolescents, on the other hand, should not consume zinc as a dietary supplement. Overdosing can quickly have the opposite of the desired effect. Zinc in excessive doses over a long period of time in the growing body can ultimately damage the immune system (14).
What side effects does zinc have?
As long as zinc is controlled and taken in appropriate doses, there is no danger from the trace element. Side effects only occur when the amount of zinc ingested is too high. For adults, the recommended maximum is 40 milligrams.
If these requirements are not met, zinc poisoning occurs in rare cases. Because zinc is a metal, it can be toxic in large amounts in the body. Ingesting a toxic amount of zinc through food is almost impossible, and even if the zinc level in the body is slightly elevated, it has little effect on the body and health.
Zinc should not be taken in excess of the recommended maximum.
An oversupply of zinc manifests itself in abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting. Loss of appetite and headaches are other signs.
A quantity of at least 150 grams per day can inhibit copper and iron absorption. The fact that blood formation is inhibited in such a case leads to a weakening of the immune system. (9)
So, when taken properly, zinc is by no means harmful or dangerous to the body. (14)
How does zinc affect the skin?
Not only has zinc often proved to be the solution to various key problems, zinc deficiency is a common trigger of such problems.
Zinc plays a crucial role in growth, cell division and renewal. The metal is therefore now often used to treat skin diseases, especially acne. The positive effects of zinc can be seen in a variety of skin problems (13).
The mineral zinc has proven to be an effective remedy against a variety of skin diseases and contributes to a generally improved complexion. (Image source: fleur kaan/ unsplash)
When treating acne, zinc supplements have been shown to significantly improve skin texture and symptoms (17). Other skin diseases such as warts, genital herpes or rosacea could be treated effectively. Taking zinc has resulted in at least a significant improvement in symptoms.
Zinc’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects also help with inflammatory skin conditions like psoriasis (18). Because of these properties, zinc ointments are often used to heal wounds and skin rashes.
Zinc is the right solution for a number of skin problems. Patients with the skin pigment disorder melasma have been treated successfully with very few side effects. (19)
It has also been proven that zinc is effective against sun damage on the skin. Taking zinc as a dietary supplement resulted in improved protection from the sun's UV rays compared to similar supplements. (20)
What effect does zinc have on the immune system?
Zinc is best known for boosting the immune system. The trace element is essential for many immune cells and their functioning (10). If there is a zinc deficiency in the body, it can even negatively affect the functioning of the immune system in the worst case (11).
Zinc supplements are often recommended for colds. The zinc activates the so-called T-helper cells, which fight cold viruses. This minimizes the onset of the common cold and the symptoms are less severe and of shorter duration (6).
However, the effects of zinc go far beyond colds. Symptoms of acute and chronic diarrhea, acute lower respiratory tract infections (15) and malaria have been alleviated in children and infants. Similar effects have also been observed in other acute infectious diseases in adults (16).
Zinc can be helpful in diseases that cause a weakening of the immune system, such as the immunodeficiency virus HIV. Zinc increases the activity of natural killer cells and the production of lymphocytes. These have the specific task of the immune system. The immune system becomes more resistant to infections. (12)
Zinc deficiency can be chronic as a hereditary zinc deficiency syndrome. It is part of the clinical picture here that patients become infected particularly often. Regulated treatment with zinc allows the impaired zinc absorption to proceed smoothly, leading to a full recovery. (13)
Despite all these positive effects and treatment options, it should always be noted that the dose of zinc is crucial for effectiveness. The body's immune system can even be weakened by an excessive intake of zinc, so that the function of the immune system is restricted. (14)
How do I recognize a zinc deficiency?
Since zinc is involved in many processes in the body and has various functions, there is also a whole range of complaints that a zinc deficiency can cause (8.11">. The symptoms are usually not clearly attributable to a zinc deficiency, but can be caused by a variety of other factors.
A reduced defense function of the immune system, hair loss or brittle nails can be just as much a sign of a low zinc level as loss of appetite and growth or fertility disorders. It is also difficult to detect zinc deficiency, since the zinc content in the blood plasma varies greatly depending on the time of day or the last meal. Zinc is also mainly stored in bones and muscles.
Growth disorders, anemia and hypofunction of the gonads are effects of zinc deficiency.
Zinc must be ingested regularly through food because it cannot be stored permanently in the body. A balanced diet therefore plays a central role in the zinc level in the body. Adolescents, the elderly and pregnant women are particularly affected by zinc deficiency (4).
Causes of zinc deficiency are an unbalanced diet that contains too little zinc, stress or an acute gastrointestinal disease. An increased intake of calcium can also impair the absorption of zinc. Athletes should take more zinc because they lose large amounts of the mineral through sweat during exercise.
If you want to increase your zinc intake for a while, you should definitely consult a doctor. A doctor can recommend individual medications or dietary supplements, for example in the form of zinc tablets. You also get the right dosage right away.
What alternatives are there to zinc supplements?
The trace element zinc is essential for various metabolic processes and cannot be directly replaced. There are only alternatives when it comes to absorbing zinc into the body. Zinc supplements can be consumed in liquid, powder, tablet or capsule form. However, these are dietary supplements that should only be taken if there is a zinc deficiency (14).
Normally, the need for zinc is covered by a healthy, balanced diet. In the following we will show you which foods contain a particularly large amount of zinc. We have listed animal and plant-based foods separately, as vegetarians and vegans should pay particular attention to their zinc levels. With the meat they lose an important source of zinc (5).
In this table we have listed some foods for you that have a high zinc content:
|Animal products||Plant-based foods|
|shellfish||walnuts and pecans|
Healthy adults need about 7 to 10 milligrams of zinc per day for all functions and processes involving zinc in the body to run smoothly. Overall, it is clear that the trace element has a major effect on the functioning of the human body.
The mineral zinc is essential for human life. Since the trace element is involved in so many processes in the body, it also has an enormous impact on it. Particularly noteworthy are the contributions to a functioning immune system. The list of areas in which zinc is involved in the body is long. Zinc has positive effects on the psyche, tissues and cells, growth, fertility, general health and much more.
Zinc has positive effects in a large number of areas of application. However, it should always be noted that zinc is already being supplied to the body in sufficient quantities with a balanced diet. Additional intake should only be made in exceptional cases, for example in the case of zinc deficiency. Ultimately, an overdose can even be detrimental to health.
- Bhatnagar S, Taneja S. Zinc and cognitive development. Br J Nutr. 2001;85 Suppl 2:S139-S145. doi:10.1079/bjn2000306
- Yary T, Aazami S. Dietary intake of zinc was inversely associated with depression. Biol Trace Elem Res. 2012;145(3):286-290. doi:10.1007/s12011-011-9202-y
- Josko Osredkar and Natasa Sustar Copper and Zinc, Biological Role and Significance of Copper/Zinc Imbalance. Clinic Toxicol S3:001. doi:10.4172/2161-0495.S3-001
- Ananda S Prasad Discovery of Human Zinc Deficiency: Its Impact on Human Health and Disease. Adv Nutr. 2013 Mar; 4(2): 176-190.
- Hunt Jr. Bioavailability of iron, zinc, and other trace minerals from vegetarian diets. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003;78(3 Suppl):633S-639S. doi:10.1093/ajcn/78.3.633S
- Hemilä H. Zinc lozenges and the common cold: a meta-analysis comparing zinc acetate and zinc gluconate, and the role of zinc dosage. JRSM Open. 2017;8(5):2054270417694291.
- Haase H, Mocchegiani E, Rink L. Correlation between zinc status and immune function in the elderly. Biogerontology. 2006;7(5-6):421-428. doi:10.1007/s10522-006-9057-3
- Prasad AS. Impact of the discovery of human zinc deficiency on health. J Am Coll Nutr. 2009;28(3):257-265. doi:10.1080/07315724.2009.10719780
- National Institutes of Health. Zinc: Fact Sheets for Health Professionals.
- Klaus-Helge Ibs and Lothar Rink Zinc-Altered Immune Function. 2003 The American Society for Nutritional Sciences.
- Keen CL, Gershwin ME. Zinc deficiency and immune function. Annu Rev Nutr. 1990;10:415-431. doi:10.1146/annurev.nu.10.070190.002215
- Shankar AH, Prasad AS. Zinc and immune function: the biological basis of altered resistance to infection. Am J Clin Nutr. 1998;68(2 Suppl):447S-463S. doi:10.
- Mrinal Gupta, Vikram K Mahajan, Karaninder S Mehta, Pushpinder S Chauhan Zinc Therapy in Dermatology: A Review. Dermatol Res Pract. 2014; 2014: 709152.
- Overbeck S, Rink L, Haase H. Modulating the immune response by oral zinc supplementation: a single approach for multiple diseases. Arch Immunol Ther Exp (Warsz). 2008;56(1):15-30. doi:10.1007/s00005-008-0003-8
- Valavi E, Hakimzadeh M, Shamsizadeh A, Aminzadeh M, Alghasi A. The efficacy of zinc supplementation on outcome of children with severe pneumonia. A randomized double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Indian J Pediatr. 2011;78(9):1079-1084. doi:10.1007/s12098-011-0458-1
- Prasad AS. Impact of the discovery of human zinc deficiency on health. J Am Coll Nutr. 2009;28(3):257-265. doi:10.1080/07315724.2009.10719780
- Dreno B, Amblard P, Agache P, Sirot S, Litoux P. Low doses of zinc gluconate for inflammatory acne. Acta Derm Venereol. 1989;69(6):541-543.
- Crutchfield CE 3rd, Lewis EJ, Zelickson BD. The highly effective use of topical zinc pyrithione in the treatment of psoriasis: a case report. Dermatol Online J. 1997;3(1):3.
- Sharquie KE, Al-Mashhadani SA, Salman HA. Topical 10% zinc sulfate solution for treatment of melasma. Dermatol Surg. 2008;34(10):1346-1349. doi:10.1111/j.1524-4725.2008.34287.x
- Pinnell SR, Fairhurst D, Gillies R, Mitchnick MA, Kollias N. Microfine zinc oxide is a superior sunscreen ingredient to microfine titanium dioxide. Dermatol Surg. 2000;26(4):309-314. doi:10.1046/j.1524-4725.2000.99237.x
- Hunt CD, Johnson PE, Herbel J, Mullen LK. Effects of dietary zinc depletion on seminal volume and zinc loss, serum testosterone concentrations, and sperm morphology in young men. Am J Clin Nutr. 1992;56(1):148-157. doi:10.1093/ajcn/56.1.148
- Uriu-Adams JY, Keen CL. Zinc and reproduction: effects of zinc deficiency on prenatal and early postnatal development. Birth Defects Res B Dev Reprod Toxicol. 2010;89(4):313-325. doi:10.1002/bdrb.20264
- Brown KH, Peerson JM, Baker SK, Hess SY. Preventive zinc supplementation among infants, preschoolers, and older prepubertal children. Food Nutr Bull. 2009;30(1 Suppl):S12-S40. doi:10.1177/15648265090301S103