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Other name(s):

zinc gluconate, zinc sulfate

General description

Zinc is an essential trace element. It’s almost as plentiful in the human body as iron. It’s concentrated in the eyes, brain, pancreas, kidneys, liver, and adrenal gland. In 1956, it was recognized as an essential nutrient.

Zinc is needed for insulin to work well. It’s also involved in protein and DNA synthesis. Bone and teeth need zinc for proper mineralization. Zinc is also needed to prevent birth defects.

Zinc works in the exchange of carbon dioxide between the lungs and the blood stream. It appears in enzymatic functions in the liver and intestine.

Medically valid uses

Zinc is not widely used to treat any medical condition. It’s only used to treat deficiencies that are due to malnutrition or malabsorption issues.

Unsubstantiated claims

Please note that this section reports on claims that have not yet been substantiated through studies.

Zinc may aid in wound healing. It may also help maintain normal levels of vitamin A. It may also improve how your immune system works. It’s also claimed to keep normal oil-gland function. It may also improve sex drive and slow the aging process.

Zinc is also claimed to shorten the duration of the common cold. But not all studies have found this to be true.

Recommended intake

Zinc is measured in milligrams (mg). The RDA is the Recommended Dietary Allowance.



Infants (0–6 months)

2 mg*

Infants (7 months to 1 year)

3 mg

Children (1–3 years)


Children (4–8 years)

5 mg

Children (9–13 years)

8 mg

Males (14–18 years)

11 mg

Females (14–18 years)

9 mg

Males (19 years and older)

11 mg

Females (19 years and older)

8 mg

Pregnant women (14–18 years)

12 mg

Pregnant women (19 years and older)

11 mg

Breastfeeding women (14–18 years)

13 mg

Breastfeeding women (19 years and older)

12 mg

* Adequate Intake (AI)

Zinc comes in a range of doses. Zinc supplements come in two main forms: zinc sulfate and zinc gluconate. Zinc sulfate contains higher concentrations of zinc (23% per 100 mg) than zinc gluconate (14.3% per 100 mg). You should take zinc with food. This can help you avoid upset stomach.

Food source

Nutrient content per 100 grams


161 mg


111 mg

Turkey meat

13.8 mg

Wheat germ

13.8 mg


9.9 mg


7.9 mg


6.9 mg

Chicken meat

4.8 mg

Whole wheat bread

2.7 mg


1.3 mg

Certain conditions increase the need for zinc. They include Down syndrome and some anemias, including sickle cell and thalassemia. They also include acrodermatitis enteropathica, an inherited issue that affects the skin, hair, and intestinal tract. Other reasons for increased need include extensive burns, diabetes, prolonged stress or trauma, and using diuretics for a long time.

Malabsorption syndromes may also cause increased the need for zinc. These may include Crohn's disease, tropical and non-tropical sprue, celiac disease, cystic fibrosis, and ulcerative colitis. They may also include problems that lead to a surgical removal of all or part of the pancreas (pancreatectomy). Intestinal parasites can also increase the need for zinc supplements.

Alcoholism and cirrhosis of the liver can also increase the need for zinc. So can eating disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia.

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding may need to take supplements, but you should talk to your healthcare provider before doing so.

Acrodermatitis enteropathica is a disease in infants that’s a rare, inherited issue. It’s marked by hair loss, diarrhea, and dermatitis. It’s linked with abnormal zinc metabolism. This condition is treated by providing zinc supplements.

Zinc deficiency in adults can lead to iron-deficiency anemia. It can also lead to pigment changes in the skin. It may also lead to loss of sense of smell, changes in how foods taste, anorexia, hair loss, and a weakened immune system function. Moderate zinc deficiencies may lead to decreased testicular function in men.

Other symptoms include liver enlargement, impaired mental function, rashes, skin lesions, and mouth sores. They also include swelling of the eyelids, infection of the skin around the fingernails, and slowed healing.

Side effects, toxicity, and interactions

Eating zinc from normal dietary sources doesn’t cause side effects. Foods cooked in galvanized (zinc-plated) cookware can cause stomach upset. Two or more grams of zinc will produce zinc toxicity. Symptoms can include drowsiness, poor memory, impaired motor skills, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

People with a copper deficiency should use zinc with caution. This is because it can make copper deficiency worse.

A chronic intake of large amounts of zinc can result in a copper deficiency. This is because it competes with copper absorption. Some foods including bran products, protein, and phytates (found in plants and seeds) may decrease zinc absorption

Red wine and lactose in milk aid in zinc absorption.

Additional information

Infants absorb zinc from breast milk well. Breast milk has a zinc-binding enzyme that enhances the ability of infants to absorb zinc through the intestine.

Zinc supplements may cause an unpleasant metallic taste in your mouth.

Online Medical Reviewer: Poulson, Brittany, RD, CDE
Online Medical Reviewer: Wilkins, Joanna, R.D., C.D
Date Last Reviewed: 9/1/2016