Zinc: Benefits and Top 5 Supplements

The benefits of zinc supplementsZinc is an underestimated and often overlooked mineral that plays a variety of important roles in all organs of the body. Zinc is found in nearly every cell in the human body [1], and is required for over 300 different enzyme actions and 1000 transcription factors. It’s absolutely essential for life to exist, thrive and survive!

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What Makes Zinc So Important?

There are three main reasons why zinc is essential for health and well-being (and, fundamentally, life):

1. Enzymatic Cofactor

Human biology is a series of complicated chemical reactions. Cofactors are essential “ingredients” that enzymes use to perform their function. Without cofactors, we wouldn’t be able to build blood, generate energy in our cells, or replicate our DNA and RNA. These compounds are required to assist the reaction taking place. Examples of cofactors include magnesium, B vitamins, and – you guessed it: zinc.

Zinc alone is a required cofactor in over 300 different enzyme reactions, and nearly 1000 transcription factors [10]. This broad and widespread effect of zinc on the function of enzymes has constant impact on multiple systems in the body.

2. Cellular Building Blocks

Cellular building blocks are called “type II nutrients”. These are minerals, amino acids and proteins that are required for the synthesis of any new tissue. Zinc is a major type II nutrient (along with minerals such as Sulphur, phosphorous and magnesium, and amino acids).

3. Antioxidant

Zinc is an essential element in the enzyme, superoxide dismutase (SOD), zinc acts as one of the most powerful antioxidants in the body to reduce inflammation, protect against cellular damage, and detoxify toxins and waste.

Raising levels of zinc has been shown to:

  • Boost immunity
  • Balance hormones
  • Speed up wound healing
  • Protect cardiovascular health
  • Improve blood sugar regulation
  • Regulate weight gain/loss
  • Control appetite

Despite its importance, zinc deficiencies are common – one study showed that as many as 2 billion people are affected by zinc deficiency, while the World Health Organization suggest that over one third of the world’s population has inadequate zinc intake [9] [16].

Zinc for Muscle Maintenance

Zinc is found in every tissue and organ system in the human body, but the majority is found in the skeletal muscle tissues – almost 60% of all zinc content in the entire body in packed into skeletal muscle [1].

The concentration of zinc in muscle tissue is a good indication of its importance in strength, growth and development. One study investigating the effects of zinc deficiency on muscle growth found a significant reduction in growth rate in people with low levels of zinc [12]. Muscles need zinc to process leucine – an amino acid that stimulates the growth of muscle tissue more than any other amino [13].

Without zinc, leucine can’t stimulate the growth of muscle fibers, and growth becomes halted. This has serious consequences during times of developmental growth (e.g. fetal development, childhood growth spurts and adolescence), but also for anyone increasing their activity, looking to bulk up, or maintain muscle mass into old age.

Zinc for Immune Health

Zinc supplements are growing increasingly popular to improve immune function. From wound healing to resistance to colds and flus, all the way through to cold sore management and preventing post-surgical complications. Zinc is used as a cofactor for some of the most critical enzyme reactions that impact the immune system.

Zinc is essential for the production of tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-a), Interleukin-2 (IL-2), and T-cells [2, 3]. The first two examples are used as part of an “alarm system”. IL-2 and TNF-a react quickly to invading pathogens in the body and call in the big guns, T-cells, to form an attack against infectious agents. Zinc plays a key role in both the alarm and reaction phase of the immune response.

Zinc has a particular power against viral infections. Taking a dose of zinc during the onset of cold or flu symptoms can reduce the duration and severity of illness, and can reduce the risk of infection spreading to your lungs [4]. Applied topically, zinc can help to control lesions caused by the herpes simplex virus – aka. cold sores! [17]

An early study on HIV emphasized zinc’s essential role in the immune system. Participants who were HIV+ were found to be 50% more likely to have a zinc deficiency than participants who were not, demonstrating that the body has a high demand for zinc intake during infection. Additionally, those in the study who were deficient in zinc had a faster progression to AIDS [4].

Zinc for Hormones

Zinc plays an important role in hormone balance in both oestrogen and testosterone dominant bodies.

Testosterone: The amount of zinc contained in the body has been shown to have a direct correlation to the levels of circulating testosterone [6]. Researchers have discovered that testosterone activity decreases significantly when zinc levels are low. Zinc deficiencies lead to both a reduction in the production of testosterone, as well as a decline in the number of cellular receptors that testosterone binds to (androgen receptors). In effect, the testes begin to produce less testosterone, while cells simultaneously becoming less sensitive to any testosterone currently in circulation – a recipe for early andropause (aka. Man-opause)!

Oestrogen: Zinc has been shown to regulate the activity of 5-alpha-reductase, an enzyme that is responsible for converting testosterone to its more active form, dihydrotestosterone (DHT), and to balance the ratio of oestrogen to testosterone. High levels of DHT and low levels of oestrogen are responsible for symptoms of hormone imbalance, and are signatures of conditions such as PCOS [14]. Zinc supplementation has been shown to boost the 5-a-reductase and rebalance oestrogen:testosterone, easing symptoms of PMS, fatigue, hormonal acne and more.

Skin Health

As a type-II nutrient, zinc is essential for the strength, integrity and repair of every skin cell. It also regulates secretions and boosts immune function of the skin, from head to toe (plus inside and out – kind of gross, but true).

A study in 2014 found that participants with acne had much lower zinc levels, and identified a clear association between zinc levels and the severity of the acne present [12]. Oral zinc supplementation has been shown to destroy the bacteria that causes acne, and also regulates the excessive production of sebum in the skin that keeps bacteria trapped in the skin [13].

Zinc also has a role on the tissue that lines our gastrointestinal tract. Supplementing with zinc has been shown to:

  • Strengthen the “tight gap junctions” in the intestines to heal leaky gut.
  • Regulate the intestinal immune system and prevent pathogens from damaging the gut lining.
  • Reduce inflammation and relieve symptoms of gut disorders such as Chron’s disease, ulcerative colitis, coeliac disease and IBS. [18]

Zinc for Mood, Concentration & Memory

The brain is rich in zinc. The most concentrated areas are the hippocampus, cortex and amygdala, where zinc is used in the transmission and regulation of key neurotransmitters GABA, glutamine, serotonin and dopamine – the four major chemicals involved in learning, mood, and relaxation. Without adequate zinc, imbalances in neurotransmitters and their signaling can cause:

  • Depression Oxidative damage naturally occurs in the central nervous system, resulting in inflammation and a subsequent decline in serotonin and dopamine production – a recipe for symptoms of low mood, loss of appetite, and loss of pleasure [8]. A randomized control trial in 2013 showed that taking 25mg of zinc per day along with prescribed SSRI antidepressant medication improved major depressive disorders compared to placebo, likely due to its antioxidant effects and cofactor roles in neurotransmitter production [9].
  • Poor Memory and Concentration – Studies have shown that zinc supplementation can improve cognition in adolescents and older adults, likely by protecting brain tissue against oxidative stress and maintaining the structural integrity of brain cells [10][11].
  • Anxiety – A zinc deficiency has been shown to lower GABA and glutamine levels, causing symptoms of anxiety [6].

How to Take Zinc Supplements

Dosage: A therapeutic dose of 20mg – 30mg of zinc per day for 3 – 4 weeks is generally considered safe for most people. But knowing how much you’re getting from a supplement can be tricky. Zinc supplements are common, and comes in many forms, each with varying amounts of elemental zinc.

For example, zinc citrate contains about 34% elemental zinc by weight compared to zinc gluconate which contains only 13% elemental zinc. The difference means that 100 mg of zinc citrate is very different than 100 mg of zinc gluconate, so always follow the label or your practitioner’s instructions when taking zinc supplements.

Look for “total elemental zinc” on the ingredient label where possible to know how much you’re taking.

Cautions: Take zinc supplements with food. Do not take zinc on an empty stomach as it can result in nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.


Copper: Research shows that taking more than 40 mg/day of zinc over a long period of time can result in copper deficiency. It’s suspected that even a low dose, over a long enough period of time, can do the same thing. Copper is essential for almost exactly the same functions as zinc – growth, antioxidant activity, immune support… There are zinc/copper combination supplements available, but keep in mind that the minerals compete for absorption in the gut. Speak to a qualified nutritionist for personalized advice regarding long-term zinc supplementation.

Iron: Iron also competes with zinc for absorption. Take iron supplements between meals, and take zinc supplements with meals to get the most out of both of them.

Medications: Take zinc at least 2 hours away from any medications. Zinc particularly reduces the absorption of tetracycline and quinolone antibiotics. Consult with your pharmacist for specific drug interactions with zinc.

Athletes: Consider a ZMA Supplement (Zinc and Magnesium) instead!

Top 5 Zinc Supplements

5. Dr Dzugan’s Advanced Zinc Gluconate Formula (25mg, 100 tablets)

Zinc Gluconate SupplementIf the idea of looking at a smiling Dr Dzugan photograph every time you take this supplement isn’t enough to entice you to buy it, let us assure you that his formula is advanced and effective, regardless of the cheesy packaging. There is truth behind Dr Dzugan’s kind eyes – he has created a supplement that is a quick and effective way to get a decent dose of zinc in once tablet, and it has great reviews on Amazon. He’s even happy to refund your money if you’re not satisfied with the product!

4. Life Extension Enhanced Zinc Lozenges (30 lozenges)

Zinc LozengesSuffering from the first signs of a cold or flu? Smash those pathogens with zinc lozenges. By keeping the supplement’s effects local to the throat and mouth, zinc ions are able to move from the through the entire the nasopharynx area to exert their bug-killing abilities where it really matters.

Each Life Extension zinc lozenge delivers a decent 18mg of zinc acetate – an ionic form of zinc that works well topically to destroy viruses and bacteria in the nose, throat and upper chest. They also taste pretty good (if you like peppermint)!

3. Neurobalance Zinc Methionine (7mg, 120 capsules)

Zinc MethionineThis supplement has been specially formulated with nutrients to support brain function and neurotransmitter balance – zinc methionine has a high affinity for the brain, with magnesium citrate and activated vitamin B6 working as cofactors in zinc’s functions in the central nervous system. Two capsules twice a day deliver a therapeutic adult dose of 28mg of zinc methionine.

2. Integrative Therapeutics Zinc Carnosine (16mg, 60 capsules)

Zinc Carnosine SupplementZinc carnosine is indicated in gastrointestinal complaints – this is a great choice if you are looking to take zinc to strengthen your gut, support the mucosa of the intestinal lining, reduce leaky gut, or fight tummy bugs. Integrative Therapeutics have had this supplement independently tested for clinical validity, and it has been found to reduce gastrointestinal discomfort.

One capsules twice a day with food a good therapeutic adult dose. This product contains no artificial flavorings, colors or preservatives that could cause further tummy upsets.

1. Thorne Research Zinc Picolinate (15mg, 60 capsules)

Best Zinc SupplementZinc Picolinate is one of the smallest supplemental zinc molecules available and is readily absorbed into the blood stream. Thorne Research have created a simple zinc picolinate supplement with no nasty binders, fillers or artificial preservatives. It even contains a dash of leucine to improve the absorption of the zinc and its role in muscle growth. This is a great choice if you are looking for a highly absorbable zinc during times of development, growth or increased physical stress.

Two capsules a day will deliver a therapeutic adult dose of 30mg.

View Thorne Zinc Picolinate on Amazon Here

Further Reading:

About James Lyons

James Lyons (BHSc Nutritional Medicine) is a clinical nutritionist, medical writer, and educator. He specialises in plant-based nutrition and is passionate about improving public access to reliable and accurate health information.


  1. Zinc is the best, been using it for years and it never failed me thus far.

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