What Does Zinc Do For The Body?

Jan 06, 2022 Immune System

What Does Zinc Do For The Body?

Quick Health Scoop

  • Zinc is a mineral (also called a trace element) that you need to stay healthy
  • What does zinc do? As an essential nutrient, zinc plays a vital role in many bodily processes, including immune system and nerve functions† 
  • Your body can't manufacture zinc on its own, so you must obtain this key nutrient through food or supplements
  • Good food sources include shellfish, red meat, poultry, nuts, seeds, legumes, dairy products (cheese and yogurt), fortified foods 

To function properly and grow and develop normally, your body relies on a steady influx of key nutrients—including zinc. But what is zinc—a vitamin or mineral? What does zinc do for the body? And what foods contain zinc?

Read on for a guide to zinc’s many health benefits, uses, and dietary sources.

What Is Zinc?

As an essential nutrient, zinc is a mineral (a.k.a. trace element), and it’s needed for many bodily functions to stay healthy.† Zinc is the second most common trace mineral in the body (iron being the first), and it’s found in every cell in your body.[1] However, your body can't produce zinc on its own, which means you must obtain this key nutrient through food or supplements.[2]

Note: Zinc is a trace mineral, which are minerals your body needs in relatively small quantities (such as iron, zinc, chromium, iodine and selenium), but there are also "major minerals," which are minerals your body needs in relatively large amounts (such as calcium, magnesium and potassium).

What Is Zinc Used For?

Known for its antioxidant properties, zinc helps protect the body’s cells from damaging effects of  free radicals, which may contribute to aging and the development of health problems.[1] What does zinc do? Used since ancient times, zinc provides a variety of health benefits:† [1,2 3,4] 

  • Helps the immune system 
  • Makes proteins and DNA proteins 
  • Helps the body’s senses of taste and smell function properly 
  • Supports healthy growth and development, especially during pregnancy, infancy, and childhood
  • Supports neurotransmission
  • Maintains healthy vision
  • Supports reproductive function
  • Plays a role in cell division and cell growth
  • Helps break down carbohydrates

What Foods Have Zinc?

Zinc is found in a wide variety of both animal and plant foods. That’s why most people should be able to get all the zinc they need directly from eating a healthy diet. However, while fruits and vegetables contain zinc, they’re not good sources for this nutrient. Why? Because the zinc isn’t as available for the body’s use compared to zinc from animal sources. So, if you follow a low-protein or vegetarian diet, know that these eating plans tend to be low in zinc.[5]

So, what foods have zinc? Good dietary sources of zinc include: [2,4,5]

  • Shellfish (particularly oysters, but also crab and lobsters)
  • Red meat (such as beef, pork, and lamb)
  • Poultry (dark meat contains more zinc than light meat)
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Legumes (a variety of beans, peas, lentils, edamame)
  • Dairy products (such as cheese and yogurt)
  • Fortified foods (such as breakfast cereal) 

Learn More: The Best Vitamins for Vegans

As always, the best way to get the nutrients you need—including zinc—is to eat a balanced diet that includes plenty of healthy foods. However, if you don’t get enough of this mineral in your diet (15% of Americans are not meeting their zinc needs through diet alone), consider taking zinc supplements or a multivitamin. These dietary supplements may contain variations of this mineral, such as zinc gluconate, zinc sulfate, or zinc acetate.[5] 

Learn More: The Best Vegan Protein Sources

How Much Zinc Should I Take Every Day?

Fortunately, since it’s a trace mineral, you don’t need a lot of zinc every day! The amount of daily zinc you need (measured in milligrams) depends on your age and life stage.[4]

Age

Males: How Much Zinc is Needed

Females: How Much Zinc is Needed

Birth to 6 months

2 mg

2 mg

Infants 7-12 months

3 mg

3 mg

Children 1-3 years

3 mg

3 mg

Children 4-8 years

5 mg

5 mg

Children 9-13 years

8 mg

8 mg

Teens 14-18 years

11 mg

9 mg

Adults 19 years and older

11 mg

8 mg

Pregnant teens 18 years and younger

n/a

12 mg

Pregnant women 19 years and older

n/a

11 mg

Breastfeeding teens 18 years and younger

n/a

13 mg

Breastfeeding women 19 years and older

n/a

12 mg


Fun Fact: Besides zinc’s presence in supplements, it’s also present in some denture adhesive creams. 

Is Zinc Safe Or Have Side Effects?

In general, zinc is considered safe when taken in recommended dosages. People with low levels of zinc may benefit from taking oral zinc supplements. However, experts suggest avoiding the use of intranasal zinc, which has been associated with losing sense of smell.[3]

Some people who take zinc supplements may experience mild side effects, such as indigestion, diarrhea, headache, nausea, and vomiting.[3] 

What’s considered a high dosage? The National Institutes of Health considers a daily dose of 40 mg of zinc as the upper limit for adults and 4 mg of zinc for infants under age 6 months.[3]

The Bottom Line

What does zinc do for the body? As an essential mineral, zinc plays a vital role in many bodily processes, including the immune system and nerve functions.† Because your body can't produce zinc on its own, you must obtain this key nutrient through food or supplements. Good food sources include shellfish, red meat, poultry, nuts, seeds, legumes, dairy products (like yogurt and cheese), fortified foods. 

As always, the best way to get the vitamins and minerals you need is to eat a balanced, healthy diet that includes a variety of foods. However, if you don’t get enough of this mineral in your diet, consider taking supplemental zinc tablets.

In addition to zinc tablets, NatureMade also carries a number of supplements with Zinc, including all of our Elderberry supplements as well as a Stress B-Complex, Super C Immune Complex, Calcium Magnesium Zinc Tablets, and Collagen Gummies

Shop All Nature Made Zinc Supplements

Continue to check back on the Nature Made blog for the latest science-backed articles to help you take ownership of your health.

Learn More About Immune Health Supplements:

  • Vitamin D Immune System Benefits 
  • Vitamin C Immune System Benefits 
  • How Much Vitamin D Do You Get From the Sun?

  • Follow @NatureMadeVitamins on Instagram for new product news, healthy lifestyle tips, and more.

    This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to serve as medical advice or a recommendation for any specific product. Consult your healthcare provider for more information. 

    †These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

    References 

    1. Lim, K. H., Riddell, L. J., Nowson, C. A., Booth, A. O., & Szymlek-Gay, E. A. (2013). Iron and zinc nutrition in the economically-developed world: a review. Nutrients, 5(8), 3184–3211. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu5083184
    2. National Institutes of Health. “Zinc: Fact Sheet for Consumers.” March 22, 2021. Accessed on: October 26, 2021. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-Consumer/
    3. Mayo Clinic. “Zinc.” November 17, 2020. Accessed on: October 26, 2021. https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-zinc/art-20366112
    4. Oregon State University’s Linus Pauling Institute. “Zinc.” May 2019. Accessed on: October 26, 2021.  https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/minerals/zinc
    5. MEDLINE Plus. “Zinc in Diet.” March 11, 2021. Accessed on: October 26, 2021. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002416.htm

    Authors

    Lisa Beach

    NatureMade Contributor

    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.

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    Melissa Dorval Pine, RD

    Science and Health Educator

    Melissa is a registered dietitian (RD) and works in our Medical and Scientific Communications department as a Science and Health Educator. She has worked for Pharmavite for over 20 years educating consumers, healthcare practitioners, 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 Relations department. Melissa received her Bachelor of Science degree in Nutritional Science, from the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona, and completed her dietetic internship at Veterans Affairs Medical Center in East Orange New Jersey.

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