Zinc lozenges are a popular cold remedy, but this unheralded mineral can do so much more. It’s required for more than a thousand different chemical reactions in the human body, which gives it a wide range of health benefits:

  • It’s essential for a healthy immune system, which helps ward off colds and other illnesses. It plays a key role in healthy cell division, which helps protect against cancer.
  • In combination with other antioxidants, it protects the eyes against blindness from age-related macular degeneration.
  • It’s used to treat diarrhea in children and to treat Wilson’s disease, a genetic disorder that leads to very high, life-threatening levels of copper.
  • It’s an antioxidant that reduces chronic inflammation and may protect against atherosclerosis.

Signs You Need More

Older people and anyone whose digestion is sub-optimal may not absorb adequate zinc. In addition, a shortfall is more likely among people who don’t eat animal foods. Signs of deficiency (and/or conditions related to low zinc) include:

  • Frequent colds or other infections
  • Allergies
  • Loss of taste and smell
  • Stunted growth in children
  • Attention disorders in kids
  • Infertility
  • Poor mental function
  • Diarrhea and IBS
  • Adrenal issues
  • Skin lesions (e.g., acne, eczema)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Hair loss
  • Slow healing of wounds
  • Pica (eating dirt)
  • Eating disorders (e.g., bulimia, anorexia)

Zinc-Depleting Drugs

Studies have found that conventional medications for heartburn and high blood pressure deplete zinc. High doses of the mineral may be necessary to restore healthy levels and should be taken under the supervision of a health professional.

Heartburn drugs reduce levels of stomach acid and this, in turn, impairs the absorption of zinc and other nutrients. One study compared effects of 26.2 mg in supplements, twice daily, in healthy people and those taking proton pump inhibitors such as Prilosec and Prevacid. Compared to the drug-free, healthy group, those taking heartburn drugs absorbed less than one-third of the mineral.

Two types of blood pressure drugs—thiazide diuretics and ACE inhibitors—increase excretion of zinc. Loss of taste can be a side effect of ACE inhibitors, and a study found that people who experienced the most loss of taste had the lowest levels. Among ACE inhibitors, the greatest depletion was seen with captopril (also sold under the brand Capoten).

Eat it in Your Food

Oysters are the best food source of zinc. Beef, lobster, pumpkin seeds, pork, chicken, and yogurt are also good sources of the mineral.

The Benefits

For overall health, the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of zinc is 8 mg for women (increased to 11 mg during pregnancy and 12 mg when breastfeeding) and 11 mg for men. Older adults with reduced ability to absorb nutrients may need more. The safe upper limit for healthy people is 40 mg daily, but anyone taking a medication that depletes zinc may need higher doses under the supervision of a health professional.

High doses can lead to a copper deficiency. However, most multis provide enough copper. In supplements, it comes in different forms—chelated zinc, zinc orotate, and zinc picolinate are thought to be among the best-absorbed forms.

Note that it can reduce the effectiveness of antibiotics or penicillamine (a rheumatoid arthritis drug) if it’s taken at the same time as the drugs. To avoid this, take zinc approximately 4–6 hours before the antibiotic or approximately 2 hours afterward.* With penicillamine, take zinc approximately 2 hours before or after the drug *as directed by your doctor.

How to Treat a Cold Using Zinc

Zinc lozenges may fight cold viruses by coating the inside surface of your mouth and throat. Let lozenges dissolve instead of chewing and swallowing them. Studies show that zinc acetate or zinc gluconate lozenges can shorten a cold by 2–3 days when taken every couple of hours, starting within 24 hours of the first symptoms.

DIY Zinc Test

A Liquid Assay test can help you determine whether or not you need more — and it can be done easily at home!

Written by vera-tweed for Better Nutrition and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

Featured image provided by Better Nutrition

Vitamin & Me

Zinc is a Daily30 mineral – an essential nutrient. There are a variety of food sources that can provide enough for your daily needs, in most settings. Remember that more is not always better. So if you are supplementing, make sure to stick to the RDA or use as directed by your doctor. To learn more on health and wellness straight from leading experts, check out the Vitamin & Me podcast with host Jessica Houston.

Vitamin & Me


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