According to the Journal of Nutrition almost 45 percent of Americans have inadequate intake of zinc in their diets. Worldwide, more than 15 percent of people are zinc deficient. The problem is very common in Sub-Sahara Africa and South Asia. 

As we age, absorption of important minerals like zinc can be impaired.  Additionally, poor dietary intake of zinc-containing foods or routine ingestion of alcohol can also result in chronically low zinc levels. Zinc deficiency is associated with skin and blood issues, increased risk for infection, vision impairment, mental health conditions, arthritis, and urological problems. Zinc also plays an important role in brain health, where its levels are 10 times greater than in the blood. 

Required by enzymes in the brain and throughout the body, zinc is involved in over 300 biochemical reactions and is an important component of over 2,000 proteins. 

Symptoms of Zinc Deficiency

  • Reduced or loss of  taste sensation
  • Decreased sense of smell
  • Increased risk of infection
  • Increased risk of intestinal infection
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Skin dryness (dermatitis)
  • Delayed growth in children
  • Pregnant moms with low levels of zinc may increase risk for autism in offspring
  • Poor memory
  • Low sperm count resulting in fertility 
  • Increased risk of depression

Medications That Deplete Zinc

Commonly prescribed medications can reduce zinc absorption or increase the body’s excretion of zinc. If you take these medications, do not stop without first consulting with your physician. Taking a quality multivitamin with zinc should help prevent deficiency in those who use the following medications: 

Acid reducers

The sale of acid-reducing medications, which block absorption of zinc and other nutrients, has become a billion-dollar industry worldwide. In 2013, prescription acid reducers generated over $10 billion in global sales.  These medications include ranitidine, famotidine, omeprazole, esomeprazole and pantoprazole.

Angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors

This class of medicine, also known as ACE inhibitors, are used to treat high blood pressure. Examples include lisinopril, benazepril, enalapril, captopril and ramipril. Studies suggest that routine use of this class may result in increased excretion of zinc in the urine. 


Diuretics are a class of blood pressure medications frequently used as first-line therapy for the treatment of high blood pressure.  They include hydrochlorothiazide, triamterene-hydrochlorothiazide (Dyazide, Maxzide), chlorthalidone and furosemide (Lasix).  Unfortunately, routine use can result in low blood levels of zinc, in addition to loss of potassium and magnesium.

Birth control pills

First approved in 1960 as a means of preventing pregnancy, birth control is taken by over 100 million women worldwide. While 99% effective when taken correctly, these pills can deplete zinc among others nutrients. 


Certain antibiotics, like ciprofloxacin, levofloxacin and tetracycline, can interact with zinc within the intestines, resulting in its decreased absorption. If taking antibiotics, especially long-term, supplementation with zinc may be considered. 

Best Food Sources of Zinc  (per 3 grams)

  • Oysters – 74 mg
  • Beef Chuck Roast – 7 mg
  • Alaska Crab – 6.5 mg
  • Beef Patty – 3 mg
  • Breakfast cereal – 3.5 mg
  • Lobster – 3.4 mg
  • Pork chop – 2.9 mg
  • Baked Beans – (1/2 cup) 2.9 mg
  • Chicken – 2.4 mg
  • Fruit yogurt – (8 ounces) 1.9 mg

13 Reasons to Optimize Intake of Zinc

  • Fights the common cold
  • Helps reduce acne
  • Optimizes memory and brain health
  • Reduces risk of depression 
  • Helps Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD/ADD)
  • Helps those with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
  • Helps with wound healing
  • Prevents sunburns
  • Helps prevent diarrhea in children 6 months or older
  • Optimizes immune system
  • Optimizes protein synthesis
  • Optimizes DNA health
  • Helps cells to reproduce appropriately

Fight the Common Cold

The common cold is the most frequent infection a person will encounter in their lifetime.  It is estimated that there are more than 220 different cold viruses which infect humans. After exposure, it normally takes one to three days for illness to start, and the duration of a cold is usually seven days, but in some cases, can last several weeks. The same virus never infects the same person twice, and while there is no cure for the common cold, there are ways to prevent infection—zinc is one of those. 

Numerous studies show zinc’s benefits for preventing the common cold. A 2016 study in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology concluded, “common cold patients may be encouraged to try zinc lozenges for treating their colds” while a 2017 study concluded, “common cold patients may be instructed to try zinc  lozenges within 24 hours of onset of symptoms.” 

Starting zinc lozenges as soon as you are exposed to a virus is suggested by many holistic practitioners. This important mineral supplement should be kept in one’s medicine cabinet, so it can be started as soon as symptoms are felt. Another 2017 study showed both zinc gluconate lozenges and zinc acetate lozenges are equally effective. Suggested dose:  zinc lozenges, 30 mg as directed on the label.

Helps Reduce Acne

Acne is a common reason teenagers and young adults visit their family doctor. Teenage acne is believed to be due, in large, to highly-processed diets and hormones. Over the counter and prescription medications are a multimillion-dollar industry. Studies show oral zinc can help. 

A 2013 study in The Journal of Drugs in Dermatology demonstrated that oral and topical zinc could be helpful against acne due to its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.  In addition, a 2017 study in Dermatologic Therapy stated, “ Zinc is a promising alternative to other acne treatments owing to its low cost, efficacy, and lack of systemic side effect.” 

Optimize Memory and Brain Health

Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease results in progressive memory loss. Those aged 65 and older are at highest risk. Zinc plays an important role in brain health. When deficient, a person may have difficulty remembering things. However, zinc is only part of the equation—copper is the other.  Knowing the copper-to-zinc ratio can be important. Both minerals can be tested using a simple blood test. Low blood levels of zinc and too much copper increases the risk for dementia,  according to a study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.  The optimal copper-to-zinc ratio, according to University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) researcher Dr. Dale Bredesen is  0.8:1.2.  The optimal zinc blood levels are 90-110 mcg/dl.

Reduce Risk for Depression

Depressive disorder affects millions of people worldwide. The cause is usually a combination of social stresses, financial stresses, and biochemical imbalance. Symptoms include the desire to sleep, decreased interest in activities, feelings of guilt, trouble concentrating, moving slowly, and sometimes, thoughts of self-harm. When present, seeking the assistance of a healthcare professional is crucial. Studies have shown those with depression are more likely to have lower levels of zinc in their blood. 

A 2017 study in Frontiers in Pharmacology supported the importance of zinc in those with depression. The same study also showed that zinc replacement could be helpful in treating psychosis.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD/ADD)

A 2017 study out of Russia suggested zinc could help in children with ADHD symptoms. Another 2017 study in Current Psychiatry Reports suggested that in those at risk for deficiency, zinc repletion could be helpful in treating Attention Deficit Disorder. More studies are needed. 

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

Traumatic Brain Injury is the result of an injury to the brain, which is common after a concussion. TBI increases the risk of dementia, depression, and substance abuse. A 2017 study out of Russia suggested zinc could help brain neurons recover. More studies are needed. 

Chronic  Skin Wounds

Chronic wounds are common in diabetics and in those who are unable to walk due to a medical condition. Low levels of nutrients, including zinc, are more common in those with chronic leg ulcers, according to a 2017 study.  An additional 2017 study in the Journal of Wound Care demonstrates that zinc oxide, when used topically, has been shown to be helpful in the healing of wounds. 

Sunburn Protection

Topical zinc oxide is used in sunscreen formulas and can be helpful in the prevention of sunburns. 


Overall, zinc is a safe mineral to take. Like most things, moderation is the key. However, if consumed in excess, side effects can occur, including nauseastomach cramps, and headaches.   It is recommended that a person consume no more than 150-450 mg per day, especially if taking supplements, as these values have been associated with decrease copper absorption. 

Use of intranasal zinc is not recommended and has been associated with loss of smell. 

Suggested Dose:

  • Zinc Picolinate, Zinc Gluconate, Zinc Bis-glycinate and Zinc Citrate are the best absorbed. Usual dose is 10 mg to 25 mg daily
  • A quality multivitamin with zinc can also be taken 
  • Zinc lozenges –take as directed on the label
  • Zinc oxide is preferred for topical use and wound care
  • Zinc oxide can also be used as sunscreen
  • Zinc sulfate and zinc oxide are less absorbable and not advised for oral use by this author

Zinc Can Help Optimize Your Health

Zinc is an essential mineral that is crucial for optimal health. A nutritious, well-rounded diet rich in zinc-containing foods is important to ensure both adequate blood and tissue levels of zinc.  Zinc can be helpful for a variety of health conditions. Certain medications can reduce zinc levels in the human body,  if these are being taken, extra care is needed to ensure adequate zinc consumption. 


  1. Ciubotariu D, Ghiciuc CM, Lupușoru CE. Zinc involvement in opioid addiction and analgesia – should zinc supplementation be recommended for opioid-treated persons? Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy. 2015;10:29. doi:10.1186/s13011-015-0025-2.
  2. Wessells KR, Brown KH. Estimating the Global Prevalence of Zinc Deficiency: Results Based on Zinc Availability in National Food Supplies and the Prevalence of Stunting. Bhutta ZA, ed. PLoS ONE. 2012;7(11):e50568. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0050568.
  3. Mocchegiani, E.; Bertoni-Freddari, C.; Marcellini, F.; Malavolta, M. Brain, aging and neurodegeneration: Role of zinc ion availability. Prog. Neurobiol. 2005, 75, 367–390.
  4. Andreini, C.; Banci, L.; Bertini, I.; Rosato, A. Counting the zinc-proteins encoded in the human genome. J. Proteome Res. 2006, 5, 196–201. 
  5. Vela G, Stark P, Socha M, Sauer AK, Hagmeyer S, Grabrucker AM. Zinc in Gut-Brain Interaction in Autism and Neurological Disorders. Neural Plasticity. 2015;2015:972791. doi:10.1155/2015/972791.
  6. J Trace Elem Med Biol. 2007;21 Suppl 1:53-5. Epub 2007 Nov 19.
  7. Yang Y, Jing X-P, Zhang S-P, et al. High Dose Zinc Supplementation Induces Hippocampal Zinc Deficiency and Memory Impairment with Inhibition of BDNF Signaling. Yan R, ed. PLoS ONE. 2013;8(1):e55384. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0055384.
  8. Lazzerini M, Wanzira H. Oral zinc for treating diarrhoea in children. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2016;(12):CD005436. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD005436.pub5.
  9. Patel AB, Mamtani M, Badhoniya N, Kulkarni H. What zinc supplementation does and does not achieve in diarrhea prevention: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Infectious Diseases. 2011;11:122. doi:10.1186/1471-2334-11-122.
  10. Blewett HJ, Taylor CG. Dietary Zinc Deficiency in Rodents: Effects on T-Cell Development, Maturation and Phenotypes. Nutrients. 2012;4(6):449-466. doi:10.3390/nu4060449.
  11. Hemilä, H.Petrus, E. J.Fitzgerald, J. T., and Prasad, A. (2016Zinc acetate lozenges for treating the common cold: an individual patient data meta-analysisBr J Clin Pharmacol8213931398. doi: 10.1111/bcp.13057.
  12. Hemilä H, Fitzgerald JT, Petrus EJ, Prasad A. Zinc Acetate Lozenges May Improve the Recovery Rate of Common Cold Patients: An Individual Patient Data Meta-Analysis. Open Forum Infectious Diseases. 2017;4(2):ofx059. doi:10.1093/ofid/ofx059.
  13. J Drugs Dermatol. 2013 May;12(5):542-5.
  14. Dermatol Ther. 2017 Nov 28. doi: 10.1111/dth.12576. [Epub ahead of print]
  15. J Alzheimers Dis. 2015;47(3):565-81. doi: 10.3233/JAD-143108.
  16. Int J Mol Sci. 2017 Nov 23;18(12). pii: E2506. doi: 10.3390/ijms18122506.
  17. Petrilli MA, Kranz TM, Kleinhaus K, et al. The Emerging Role for Zinc in Depression and Psychosis. Frontiers in Pharmacology. 2017;8:414. doi:10.3389/fphar.2017.00414.
  18. Zh Nevrol Psikhiatr Im S S Korsakova. 2017;117(7):112-119. doi: 10.17116/jnevro201711771112-119.
  19. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2017 Feb;19(2):8. doi: 10.1007/s11920-017-0762-1.
  20. Zh Nevrol Psikhiatr Im S S Korsakova. 2017;117(7):112-119. doi: 10.17116/jnevro201711771112-119.
  21. Barber GA, Weller CD, Gibson SJ. Effects and associations of nutrition in patients with venous leg ulcers: A systematic review. J Adv Nurs. 2017;00:1–14.
  22. Wound Care. 2017 Oct 1;26(Sup10):S30-S36. doi: 10.12968/jowc.2017.26.Sup10.S30.