Zinc: Benefits, Deficiency, Food Sources, and Side Effects

Zinc is an essential mineral for many functions in the body. Without it, you won’t survive.

Many experts see a zinc deficiency as a public health issue. Yet an estimated 2 billion people worldwide are deficient.

Every one of these people could benefit greatly by having more zinc in their diet, but others with certain conditions and adequate zinc levels may also benefit.

Your immune system, vision, reproduction, nerve transmission, cell division, intestinal health, and skin all depend on zinc.

Quick Facts on Zinc

  • In the body, a ‘zinc-finger motif’ structure is used to stabilize the structure of proteins in your body.

  • Zinc regulates gene expression.

  • This mineral also regulates the activity of enzymes that are responsible for cell signaling and maintains the functions of >200 enzymes.

  • You can be zinc deficient more easily if you are 65 years old and above, have GI problems, liver or kidney disease, are vegetarian, or are a child.

  • Having enough zinc in your body allows your immune system cells to produce antibodies against microbes that cause disease.

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Symptoms of Zinc Deficiency

These are the deficiency symptoms you might have:

  • delayed sexual maturation

  • easily catch colds and flu

  • brain fog

  • your fertility efforts aren’t working

  • inability to taste and smell foods

  • acne

  • skin rashes like dermatitis

  • impaired night vision

  • slow wound healing

  • failure to thrive (infants)

  • emotional instability

What diseases and disorders respond the best to treatment with zinc?

Over the decades, researchers and doctors have found that people with the following conditions on the list below will respond best to treatment with zinc.

  1. Iron deficiency anemia

  2. Fever and sepsis (blood poisoning from infection). Studies find that zinc-deficient animals developed an infla-raging response to sepsis compared to animals that were not deficient in the mineral.

  3. Heart disease

  4. Prostate disease

  5. Those taking estrogen

  6. Those experiencing stress

  7. Pregnant women

  8. Those with diarrhea

  9. Plant-based diets high in phytic acid

  10. Crohn’s disease or other GI disorders such as celiac disease

  11. Bariatric surgery patients

  12. Older breastfed infants

  13. Those with elevated CRP levels and obesity

  14. Those who have blood sugar regulation problems, Type 2 diabetes, and zinc deficiency. (Zinc lowers blood sugar and Hemoglobin A1c levels.)

  15. 40% of the elderly who are zinc deficient

  16. Alcoholism

  17. Acid Reflux

What diseases and disorders do not respond well to treatment with zinc?

If you have a common cold and begin taking zinc at the beginning of the illness, your chance of overcoming it is good.

But if you wait a few days until the common cold has already established itself, and then taking the mineral, it’s a little too late. It most likely won’t give you the results you want. You can’t expect the immune response to be best unless the nutrients are used early in the disease.

Another thing you can’t expect to work well is when dietary supplements are added to breakfast cereals. You can’t expect to get your nutrients from processed breakfast cereals. The very act of processing decreases many more nutrients than can be put into the serving of cereal. You end up with a deficit.

Intranasal zinc formulas should be avoided since they cause a loss of the sense of smell. This is often irreversible.

What forms of zinc work best for treating various diseases and disorders?

According to a study at a human nutrition laboratory in Switzerland, zinc citrate is well absorbed by healthy adults; same rate as zinc gluconate. That’s when it was given as a supplement without any food.

Zinc oxide is less well absorbed and may be minimally consumed by some individuals.

The least expensive zinc supplements or ones used for food fortification are zinc sulfate and zinc oxide. Always remember that taking zinc with food lowers its absorption 10 to 25%.

Clinical trials give us a good idea of what reduces the absorption of vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids and what enhances it. These trials are done in ways where body levels (in the blood) are measured.

Zinc and Your Immunity

What happens with zinc when the body recognizes an invading microbe?

  1. Your body’s innate immune response wakes up.

  2. Part of this response is the NF-KB pathway, which revs up the protein NF-KB.

  3. NF-KB enters the nucleus of the cell that was infected.

  4. The cell turns on its genetics from the NF-KB signal and expresses a gene that creates a zinc transporter called ZIP8.

  5. ZIP8 zips off to the cell wall, where it takes zinc from the bloodstream into the cell.

  6. Zinc, now inside the cell, binds another protein called IKKB in the NF-KB pathway, stopping any further activity in the process. This ends up preventing excessive inflammation. (But if there never was enough zinc in the first place, the excessive infla-raging occurs, the ZIP8 was never activated, and the cells die.)

Zinc and the Prostate Gland

Zinc is naturally found in high levels in the prostate gland. There, it influences transcription factors such as NF-kappaB. This transcription factor regulates the release of cytokines that cause inflammation.

And since inflammation is often a precursor for cancer, zinc may be protective against prostate cancers by keeping inflammation to a minimum.

Zinc also directly attacks inflammation. And if the prostate is enlarged, there’s a lot of inflammation there. In one study, doctors tested zinc levels of patients with prostate enlargement. Those with BPH had 61% lower zinc levels than normal.

They also found that the men with enlarged prostate eliminated more zinc in their urine than the others without the disorder.

There’s one other condition of the prostate where zinc may be essential – one called prostatitis. This is where an inflammation of the prostate occurs suddenly, and urination is near impossible. Again, zinc could relieve and regulate the inflammation in this situation as well.

How can a zinc supplement be beneficial to men’s health and prostate problems?

Zinc is essential for normal testosterone levels, normal sperm counts, and sperm activity, and in fact, all of men’s sexual functioning depends on zinc.

One of the early researchers of zinc deficiency was a doctor in India that discovered the root cause of why young boys did not sexually mature was because of low zinc levels. This research gave us the earliest clues that zinc could also be important for the prostate.

The prostate gland produces prostate fluid that mixes with sperm to form semen. Sexual health benefits for men depends on zinc, which keeps this process going. There is also a connection between testosterone and enlarged prostate. When testosterone levels are low – such as what can happen from low zinc – then the prostate may enlarge.

Since zinc is vital for proper immunity, zinc may also be required for you to prevent prostate cancer. Although studies vary on their results of zinc supplements for those who have prostate cancer, the bottom line is still that zinc is essential for health, and your levels must be in the normal range.

One of the primary reasons why men’s PSA levels rise is fungal infections. These fungal infections will have a much more difficult time staying high if zinc is found in adequate amounts in the body.

Benefits of zinc supplements

When zinc is in the body before an infection starts, it prevents excessive inflammation by shutting down the inflammatory pathway and the immune response. This is the same mechanism by which zinc works when you take it initially when you first start feeling cold or flu symptoms.

This means you can avoid getting sick in most situations. Everyone in your neighborhood could be sick with a virus, but if your immune system response is doing well because of a good healthy diet, zinc supplements to keep your levels high, and healthy habits, you stay well.

Skin benefits and faster wound healing may also be expected. Decades ago, a connection was made between the appearance of acne and zinc deficiency. Once the zinc deficiency was addressed, the acne condition improved.

How do you know you would be a good candidate for zinc supplementation?

Your body is not able to make its own zinc. You must get it from a well-balanced diet, supplements, and hopefully not an IV in a near-death situation.

The amount of zinc you need depends on your present state of health, your diet, and your current zinc status. The recommended amount of zinc required per day is 11 mg per male (8 mg for female), down from an older standard of 15 mg per day.

Some people say that you can check your fingernails for white spots, and this is a good enough way to determine where your zinc level is. Interestingly, you’ll see that you get more white spots on your nails after you have a bout of common cold. However, the best way to find out your zinc status is to get a blood test, which is quite inexpensive.

Once you receive the results of your zinc blood test, you and your doctor/nutritionist can then decide what would be the best dietary supplements to take and foods to eat.

What vitamins and other supplements should you take to get the greatest benefits from zinc supplements?

You can get many different dietary supplements on the market that contain zinc in them.

For example, one dietary supplement for age-related macular degeneration might include other nutrients such as major antioxidants, such as beta-carotene, vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin C, and additional nutrients such as B vitamins, lutein, zeaxanthin, other carotenoids, polyphenols, iodine, vitamin D, and omega 3 fatty acids.

Zinc is a hot topic for researchers studying age-related macular degeneration. Right now, there are over 350 different medical reports/studies that are listed in the Pubmed database on the topic.

Prostate supplements may contain:

  • zinc

  • stinging nettle

Each of these ingredients will have a direct effect on the prostate, urinary tract, or immune function.

This one is one of the most well-researched formulations, hitting just about every angle of prostate health.

Best ways to take zinc supplements

The best form of zinc to take is a food source. Zinc-rich foods include red meat, poultry (especially the dark meat), beans, crab, lobster, whole grains like wild rice, seeds, fortified cereals, and dairy products.

Beans, almonds, seeds, and whole grains also contain phytates, which block the absorption of zinc.

For example, eating oysters is the best way to get the highest dose of dietary zinc in a meal. Six oysters contain anywhere from 27 to 50 mg of zinc. However, the problem with oysters is that they may also be contaminated with heavy metals such as cadmium. Cadmium is an antagonist to zinc, and whenever it’s in a food, the body prefers to absorb cadmium, not zinc.

Because you never know what you’re getting when you’re eating food sources, if your body has a real need for zinc, the best way to fulfill that need is to use a dietary supplementation source.

What natural zinc supplement should I take?

When choosing zinc supplements, it’s not about getting the MOST zinc. You don’t want to overdose on zinc.

For example, let’s say you go to the drug store and get a 30 mg zinc supplement. You take 3-4 supplements per day for several months. This would be a big mistake.

You would have offset your copper levels, taking them almost down to zero. You would end up with a copper deficiency! Too much zinc intake, according to the Linus Pauling Institute, is an amount greater than 40 mg per day.

One excellent supplement to start with is Ben’s Prostate Health Supplement, which combines herbs with zinc as well as food sources of zinc together. The combination is greater than the individual effects from any one ingredient. Plus, there have been a lot of testimonials on the product, showing real life-giving benefits.


Taking dietary supplements reduces the chance that your body’s zinc levels are low. They enhance your immune response and could even help you beat the common cold.

Whether you are in the category of older adults or healthy people in your younger or middle life years, you still need vitamin and mineral nutrients that include antioxidants such as zinc.

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