Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Zinc and your health

7-minute read

Key facts

  • Zinc is a mineral that is essential for many of the body's normal functions and systems.
  • Zinc also supports normal growth and development during pregnancy, childhood and adolescence.
  • Having enough zinc is important for skin health and effective wound healing.
  • Zinc is found in many food sources, but is better absorbed from animal-based foods, so vegans and vegetarians need to be extra careful to ensure they get enough.
  • Too much zinc can cause side effects, so if you decide to take a supplement, don't take more than 40mg of extra zinc, unless you are advised to by your doctor.

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
  • senses of taste and smell

Zinc also supports normal growth and development during pregnancy, childhood and adolescence.

What does zinc do?

Zinc is naturally 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 (your genes). The body cannot make zinc, so you need to get it from the food you eat. 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 infections. Children and older people are at greater risk.
  • Wound healing: Zinc supports skin health. If you don't have enough zinc in your diet, it can lead to skin changes that can look like eczema at first. Zinc supplements may be used to help people who have burns or leg ulcers that heal very slowly or don't heal.
  • Taste and smell: Zinc is very important for one of the enzymes you need so that you are able to taste and smell.

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

Can I have too much or too little zinc?

Having the right amount of zinc (not too much, or too little) is important. An imbalance of potassium can lead to health problems.

Low zinc

Healthy people who don't have enough zinc in their diet may have symptoms including:

  • hair loss
  • diarrhoea
  • delayed sexual development in adolescents
  • eye and skin problems
  • loss of appetite

High zinc

Taking too much zinc can lead to:

It can also interfere with other nutrients you need, such as copper and iron.

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

How much zinc do I need?

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

Stage of life Recommended daily intake for zinc (milligrams per day)
0 to 6 months 2
7 to 12 months 3
1 to 3 years 3
4 to 8 years 4
9 to 13 years 6
14 to 18 years
Males 13
Females 7
Adult males 14
Adult females 8
During pregnancy 10 to 11
While breastfeeding 11 to 12

Source: Eat for health

How do I get enough zinc?

Zinc is found in many foods including:

  • meat
  • fish and seafood
  • poultry
  • cereals and whole grains
  • nuts, seeds and legumes
  • dairy foods

The amount of zinc the body can absorb is affected by how much protein is in the diet. Zinc tends to be better absorbed from animal-based foods than plant-based foods. This means that 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 multivitamin supplements and cold remedies that contain zinc.

Read more on foods high in zinc.

Resources and support

  • Visit Nutrition Australia for information about healthy eating.
  • Eat for Health uses the Australian dietary guidelines to provide advice about the amount and types of food you need.

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

Last reviewed: June 2023

Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

ACD A-Z of Skin - Zinc Deficiency and the Skin

Zinc deficiency results in skin changes that can look like atopic dermatitis in the early stages.

Read more on Australasian College of Dermatologists website

Food and your immune system

Maintaining a healthy, balanced diet is key to helping your immune system function properly.

Read more on Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute website

Vitamin and mineral (micronutrient) supplements

Here is what you need to know about the benefits for fertility and pregnancy health of folic acid, iodine, vitamin D, zinc, and selenium supplements.

Read more on Your Fertility website

5 Key Nutrients to Beat Cold Weather Blues | Nutrition Australia

Through being mindful of our lifestyle, such as the food we consume, we can help support better mental health and a healthy immune system to carry us through…

Read more on Nutrition Australia website

Zinc protoporphyrin | Pathology Tests Explained

The zinc protoporphyrin (ZPP) test is a blood test that can identify a disruption in the formation of haem. Haem is an essential component of haemoglobin, th

Read more on Pathology Tests Explained website

Diabetes-related autoantibodies | Pathology Tests Explained

Islet cell cytoplasmic autoantibodies (ICA), insulin autoantibodies (IAA), glutamic acid decarboxylase antibodies (GADA), insulinoma-associated-2 autoantibod

Read more on Pathology Tests Explained website

Children, vitamins and minerals

Kids often don’t need vitamin or mineral supplements. Learn more about giving your child the vitamins and minerals they need through a balanced diet.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Vitamin and mineral supplements: when are they needed? -

Vitamin and mineral supplements won't convert poor food choices into a healthy diet, but relevant quantities can address deficiencies at certain life stages.

Read more on myDr website

Iron intake for vegetarians -

Iron deficiency can be a nutritional problem for vegetarians, especially women. Find out about iron in food and how to enhance your iron absorption.

Read more on myDr website

Iron studies | Pathology Tests Explained

Iron is needed to help form adequate numbers of normal red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout the body. Iron is a critical part of haemoglobin, the p

Read more on Pathology Tests Explained website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Queensland Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.