font size
A
A
A

Zinc

How does Zinc work?

Zinc is needed for the proper growth and maintenance of the human body. It is found in several systems and biological reactions, and it is needed for immune function, wound healing, blood clotting, thyroid function, and much more. Meats, seafood, dairy products, nuts, legumes, and whole grains offer relatively high levels of zinc.

Zinc deficiency is not uncommon worldwide, but is rare in the US. Symptoms include slowed growth, low insulin levels, loss of appetite, irritability, generalized hair loss, rough and dry skin, slow wound healing, poor sense of taste and smell, diarrhea, and nausea. Moderate zinc deficiency is associated with disorders of the intestine which interfere with food absorption (malabsorption syndromes), alcoholism, chronic kidney failure, and chronic debilitating diseases.

Zinc plays a key role in maintaining vision, and it is present in high concentrations in the eye. Zinc deficiency can alter vision, and severe deficiency can cause changes in the retina (the back of the eye where an image is focused).

Zinc might also have effects against viruses. It appears to lessen symptoms of the rhinovirus (common cold), but researchers can't yet explain exactly how this works. In addition, there is some evidence that zinc has some antiviral activity against the herpes virus.

Low zinc levels can be associated with male infertility, sickle cell disease, HIV, major depression, and type 2 diabetes, and can be fought by taking a zinc supplement.

Are there safety concerns?

Zinc is LIKELY SAFE for most adults when applied to the skin, or when taken by mouth in amounts not larger than 40 mg daily. Routine zinc supplementation is not recommended without the advice of a healthcare professional. In some people, zinc might cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, metallic taste, kidney and stomach damage, and other side effects. Using zinc on broken skin may cause burning, stinging, itching, and tingling.

Zinc is POSSIBLY SAFE when taking by mouth in doses greater than 40 mg daily. There is some concern that taking doses higher than 40 mg daily might decrease how much copper the body absorbs. Decreased copper absorption may cause anemia.

Zinc is POSSIBLY UNSAFE when inhaled through the nose, as it might cause permanent loss of smell. In June 2009, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advised consumers not to use certain zinc-containing nose sprays (Zicam) after receiving over 100 reports of loss of smell. The maker of these zinc-containing nose sprays has also received several hundred reports of loss of smell from people who had used the products. Avoid using nose sprays containing zinc.

Taking high amounts of zinc is LIKELY UNSAFE. High doses above the recommended amounts might cause fever, coughing, stomach pain, fatigue, and many other problems.

Taking more than 100 mg of supplemental zinc daily or taking supplemental zinc for 10 or more years doubles the risk of developing prostate cancer. There is also concern that taking large amounts of a multivitamin plus a separate zinc supplement increases the chance of dying from prostate cancer.

Taking 450 mg or more of zinc daily can cause problems with blood iron. Single doses of 10-30 grams of zinc can be fatal.

Special Precautions & Warnings:

Infants and children: Zinc is LIKELY SAFE when taken by mouth appropriately in the recommended amounts. Zinc is POSSIBLY UNSAFE when used in high doses.

Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Zinc is LIKELY SAFE for most pregnant and breast-feeding women when used in the recommended daily amounts (RDA). However, zinc is POSSIBLY UNSAFE when used in high doses by breast-feeding women and LIKELY UNSAFE when used in high doses by pregnant women. Pregnant women over 18 should not take more than 40 mg of zinc per day; pregnant women age 14 to 18 should not take more than 34 mg per day. Breast-feeding women over 18 should not take more than 40 mg of zinc per day; breast-feeding women age 14 to 18 should not take more than 34 mg per day.

Alcoholism: Long-term, excessive alcohol drinking is linked to poor zinc absorption in the body.

Diabetes: Large doses of zinc can lower blood sugar in people with diabetes. People with diabetes should use zinc products cautiously.

Hemodialysis: People receiving hemodialysis treatments seem to be at risk for zinc deficiency and might require zinc supplements.

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus)/AIDS: Use zinc cautiously if you have HIV/AIDS. Zinc use has been linked to shorter survival time in people with HIV/AIDs.

Syndromes in which it is difficult for the body to absorb nutrients: People with malabsorption syndromes may be zinc deficient.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA): People with RA aborb less zinc.

Report Problems to the Food and Drug Administration

You are encouraged to report negative side effects of prescription drugs to the FDA. Visit the FDA MedWatch website or call 1-800-FDA-1088.

Pill Finder Tool

Need help identifying pills and medications?
Use the pill identifier tool on RxList.

Therapeutic Research Faculty copyright

Report Problems to the Food and Drug Administration

You are encouraged to report negative side effects of prescription drugs to the FDA. Visit the FDA MedWatch website or call 1-800-FDA-1088.



Medical Dictionary