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Zinc and your health

3-minute read

What is zinc?

Zinc is a mineral that is essential for many of the body's normal functions and systems, including the immune system, wound healing, blood clotting, thyroid function, and the senses of taste and smell. Zinc also supports normal growth and development during pregnancy, childhood and adolescence.

What does zinc do?

Zinc is found in cells throughout the body. It helps the cells to grow and divide, and is necessary for the activity of enzymes, proteins and DNA. The body cannot make zinc so it must be obtained from food. It is mainly stored in the muscle and bone.

Zinc is important for many of the body’s functions.

Immune system: The body needs zinc to fight off infection. People who don’t have enough zinc in their body may be at greater risk of pneumonia and other infections. Children and the elderly are at greater risk.

Wound healing: Zinc supports the skin. If you don’t have enough zinc, it can lead to skin changes that initially look like eczema. Zinc supplements may be used to help people whose leg ulcers won’t heal.

The common cold: Zinc is sold in some products to help with the common cold. Research shows that taking zinc lozenges or syrup can make cold symptoms less severe and last for less time, especially if you take them in the first 24 hours.

Age-related macular degeneration: Some research has shown that zinc is important in preventing and slowing the progression of age-related macular degeneration.

Taste and smell: Zinc is crucial for one of the enzymes needed to taste and smell.

Healthy people who don’t have enough zinc in their diet may experience hair loss, diarrhoea, impotence, eye and skin problems and loss of appetite.

Having enough zinc is especially important during pregnancy and for children to ensure they grow and develop properly.

How much zinc do I need?

How much zinc you need depends on your age and stage of life:

Stage of life Recommended daily intake for zinc (milligrams per day)
0-6 months 2 mg/day
7-12 months 3 mg/day
1-3 years 3 mg/day
4-8 years 4 mg/day
9-13 years 6 mg/day
14-18 years 13 mg/day (boys); 7 mg/day (girls)
Adult men 14 mg/day
Adult women 8 mg/day
During pregnancy 10-11 mg/day
While breastfeeding 11-12 mg/day

Source:NHMRC

How do I get enough zinc?

Zinc is found in many foods such as meat, fish, poultry, cereals and dairy foods. The amount of zinc the body can absorb is affected by how much protein is in the diet, so vegetarians and vegans, or people on long-term restricted diets, are more likely to experience zinc deficiency.

Some people may need more zinc than they can get from food alone. Zinc can be found in zinc supplements or multi-vitamin supplements and cold remedies that contain zinc.

Is it possible to have too much zinc?

Taking too much zinc can lead to nausea and vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal cramps and headaches. It can also interfere with other nutrients you need such as copper and iron.

You should not take more than 40mg of extra zinc a day, unless your doctor tells you to.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: March 2021


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