Zinc is an essential nutrient (meaning your body can’t produce it) and a trace mineral. (meaning you only need a small amount daily)
Zinc supports many body functions, including immune function
Daily zinc requirements depend on age and life stage, but most adults need between 8-11mg per day
Supplemental zinc come in a variety of forms, with oral supplementation (such as zinc tablets and lozenges) being the safest option
Getting your essential vitamins and minerals every day (preferably through nutritious foods) should top your list of health priorities. Make sure one of these key nutrients is zinc. Why? Because it supports many key body functions, including immune function.
Zinc is a trace mineral, which means your body only needs a small amount of it every day to function properly. (More on daily dosage in a bit.) But it’s also known as an essential nutrient. Yes, it’s essential to your body’s health and well-being. But here, “essential” also means your body can't produce zinc on its own, so you must obtain this key nutrient through food or dietary supplements.
You might be wondering, “How much zinc can I take and why should I take it?” Read on to see what the science says about how zinc benefits your health, the different types of zinc supplementation available, and the recommendations on daily dosages at every age.
What Are the Benefits of Taking Zinc?
Zinc starts helping the body even before birth. Thanks to zinc’s role in aiding cells growth and division, it’s important to get adequate zinc intake during times of rapid growth (think pregnancy, childhood, and adolescence).
In fact, this vital mineral provides a variety of health benefits throughout the body. As an antioxidant, zinc helps safeguard the body’s cells from free radical damage, which may contribute to aging and the development of a variety of health problems. Zinc plays an important role in your sense of taste and smell. Plus, zinc is a major player in various aspects of cellular metabolism, from spurring the catalytic activity of 100 enzymes to making proteins and DNA.
Perhaps its most well-known role, though, is how zinc helps the immune system. Research shows that zinc supports normal function of the immune cells through the T cells and the B cells.
Regardless, many people turn to zinc for immune support, which is why it’s often contained in zinc lozenges and other zinc supplements.
And when it comes to the immune system, zinc often goes hand-in-hand with another antioxidant—vitamin C. Some studies show that combining zinc with vitamin C helps support healthy immune function, which is why you often see the two paired together in supplements.
How Much Zinc Should You Take Daily?
As mentioned earlier, zinc is a trace mineral, meaning you only need a small amount in your diet everyday to meet your daily requirements. So, exactly how much zinc should you take a day? Experts say that the amount of daily zinc you need (measured in milligrams) depends on your age and life stage, with the following recommendations.
Ideally, you can add zinc-containing foods to your diet. Specific foods rich in zinc include oysters, beef, Alaska king crab, lobster, pork, beans, peas, dark meat poultry, nuts, seeds, dairy products (like cheese and yogurt), and fortified breakfast cereals.
Although rare in North America, zinc deficiency can occur. Signs of low zinc levels include hair loss, decreased alertness, impotence in men, diarrhea, loss of appetite, eye and skin sores, and slow growth in infants and children.
What Are the Different Types of Zinc?
Concerned about your zinc status? Whether you want to maintain adequate zinc levels or your doctor has diagnosed significant zinc loss or a zinc deficiency and prescribed zinc supplementation, several options are available. You can find zinc supplements in two main formats: oral zinc (such as tablets, gummies, powdered drink mix, lozenges, capsules, and syrup) and intranasal zinc (such as zinc nasal sprays, gels, and swabs).
Among these two main types of zinc, you’ll find they contain various types of zinc listed in the ingredients, such as the following:
Zinc acetate: Manufacturers often add zinc acetate to lozenges
Zinc citrate: According to one study, zinc citrate is absorbed in the body as well as zinc gluconate but tastes better 
Zinc gluconate: Like zinc acetate, manufacturers often add this common, cost-effective form of zinc to supplements, including tablets, gummies, powdered drink mix, lozenges and nasal sprays
Zinc picolinate: Zinc picolinate costs a bit more, but is sometimes included in zinc supplements
Zinc sulfate: Research shows that zinc sulfate can help prevent zinc deficiency
Although oral zinc is considered safe with minimal adverse effects when taken in the dosages recommended by experts, it can cause side effects when taken in excess. Long-term use of too much extra zinc, especially in high doses, can lead to zinc toxicity and cause issues such as iron and copper deficiency. Also, zinc can also interact with certain medications such as antibiotics and penicillamine (a rheumatoid arthritis treatment). Signs of excess zinc include nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, stomach cramps, diarrhea, and headaches. The upper limit for zinc in adults is 40 mg/day.
Safety note: Regarding intranasal zinc, it’s been linked to a severe side effect (permanent loss of the sense of smell) and should not be used.
The Bottom Line
Zinc—an essential nutrient and a trace mineral—should be part of a healthy eating pattern that includes zinc-rich foods and, if needed, zinc supplements. This key nutrient supports many body functions, including immune function.
How much zinc should you take daily? It depends on your age and life stage, but experts recommend that most adults need between 8-11mg per day (more for those who are pregnant or breastfeeding). Zinc supplements come in a variety of forms, with oral zinc supplements (such as zinc tablets, gummies, syrups, powdered drink mix, and lozenges) being the safest option. Because of the severe, permanent side effect of loss of smell, zinc nasal sprays should not be used. Contact your healthcare provider to see if taking a zinc supplement is right for you.
Senior Manager, Medical and Scientific Communications
Melissa is a Registered Dietitian and provides leadership to Pharmavite’s Medical and Scientific Education team. She has over 20 years of experience educating consumers, healthcare professionals, retailers and employees about nutrition, dietary supplements, and overall wellness. Prior to joining the Medical and Scientific Communications team, Melissa launched and managed Pharmavite’s Consumer Affairs department and worked as a clinical dietitian throughout Southern California. Melissa received her Bachelor of Science degree in Nutritional Sciences from the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona, and completed her dietetic internship at Veteran’s Hospital in East Orange New Jersey.
Lisa Beach is a seasoned journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, Eating Well, Parents, AARP’s Disrupt Aging, Optimum Wellness, and dozens more. She also writes for a variety of health/wellness-focused brands. Check out her writer’s website at www.LisaBeachWrites.com.