Zinc Supplements: Health Benefits And Potential Adverse Effects

Zinc is a mineral known for its role in immune function and is second only to iron as the most abundant trace mineral in the body.
It can be obtained through food sources —

animal- (e.g. oysters, beef, lobster, yogurt) or plant-based (e.g. chickpeas, cashews, quinoa, lentils) —

and is also available in supplement form. Zinc supplements come in various forms such as capsules, drops and lozenges, with the latter being beneficial for combating colds in the short term. 

To give you an idea of how to take zinc supplements safely this season, Health.com has shared both their health benefits and their potential adverse effects.

Health Benefits 

Besides supporting the immune system, zinc powers the activity of more than 300 digestion-, nerve- and metabolism-aiding enzymes.

Zinc also plays a role in brain health. In fact, the brain has the highest concentration of the mineral compared to other organs in the body. A 2017 study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences concluded that while there are many unknowns, changes in zinc balance can affect age-related cognitive decline, depression, Alzheimer's disease and other conditions.

One other role of zinc is in helping the body heal. It is required for cell membrane repair, cell growth and maintaining healthy skin. Proteins fueled by zinc also play a role in cells, including DNA repair. It is for these reasons that a zinc deficiency can result in skin problems while affecting wound healing.

Too little zinc can negatively affect your senses as well as appetite. One recent study found that 35 to 45 percent of adults 60 and above had zinc intakes below the estimated average requirement. Diminished taste and smell, along with poor appetite, are among the side effects tied to zinc deficiency, both affecting the appeal of food.

Several studies have also shown that zinc deficiency increases oxidative stress, which affects the body's ability to counter the harmful effects of cell-damaging free radicals. Zinc itself has also been shown to reduce blood markers for inflammation, known to trigger premature aging and chronic diseases.

Potential Adverse Effects 

Too much zinc in supplements can cause nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, diarrhea, headaches and other adverse effects. 

Excess zinc potentially alters the body's copper levels and iron function, reduces immunity and lowers levels of "good" HDL cholesterol in blood. It is also good to note that the Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) for zinc, including both foods and supplements combined, is 40 milligrams daily for all adults 19 years old and above. Unless supplemental zinc is prescribed and monitored by a physician for a specific medical condition, long-term intake above the UL increases risk of adverse health effects. 

All these mean that more zinc is not good and some of the risks associated with excess zinc are similar to those of a zinc deficiency. If a doctor or registered dietitian has recommended a zinc supplement for any reason, ask about the dosage, form, frequency and length of use and when and how to take the supplement.

Zinc Here are 7 of the best Zinc supplements for immune system health. Steve Buissinne / Pixabay

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