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 deficiency

3-minute read

What is zinc deficiency?

Zinc deficiency is when the body does not have enough of the mineral zinc. Zinc is important for the immune system, wound healing, and normal growth and development during pregnancy, childhood and adolescence.

What are the symptoms of zinc deficiency?

Zinc deficiency can result in skin changes that look like eczema at first. There may be cracks and a glazed appearance on the skin, often found around the mouth, nappy area and hands. The rash doesn’t get better with moisturisers or steroid creams or lotions.

People with zinc deficiency may also experience:

  • hair loss
  • changes in their nails
  • diarrhoea
  • more infections
  • feeling irritable
  • loss of appetite
  • impotence
  • eye problems
  • weight loss
  • wounds that take a long time to heal
  • lack of taste and smell

Zinc deficiency can slow a child’s growth and delay them reaching sexual maturity.

What causes zinc deficiency?

Some people cannot get their daily requirement of zinc in their diet. Protein helps the body to absorb zinc, so vegetarians and vegans, and people on long-term restricted diets, may be more at risk. Children on restricted diets and babies who are exclusively breastfed longer than 6 months may also experience zinc deficiency.

Zinc deficiency can happen in people who have problems absorbing nutrients, for example, older people and those who have some gut diseases. Some medicines can also increase the loss of zinc through urine.

Sometimes newborn babies experience zinc deficiency if they are premature or very sick, or if their mothers had a mild zinc deficiency. Some people are born with zinc deficiency.

How is zinc deficiency diagnosed?

If you think you or child may have zinc deficiency, see your doctor. They may do a blood test, although this is not very reliable for people with mild deficiency.

Often the best way of diagnosing zinc deficiency is to see if the symptoms improve with a zinc supplement. If you or your child have skin problems related to zinc deficiency, they should start to clear up within 72 hours of taking a supplement.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

How is zinc deficiency treated?

Extra zinc can be obtained from a supplement, usually in the form of a pill or capsule. Your doctor will recommend the right dose for you, depending on your symptoms. Zinc can also be obtained from some multi-vitamin supplements or cold remedies that contain zinc.

It’s important to follow your doctor’s or pharmacist’s recommendations, as having too much zinc can lead to diarrhoea or vomiting, and can 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.

Can zinc deficiency be prevented?

The best way to avoid zinc deficiency for most people is to eat foods that are high in zinc. These include oysters, meat and fish. Smaller amounts of zinc can be found in cereals, legumes, dairy foods and seeds.

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

Last reviewed: March 2021


Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Zinc protoporphyrin - Lab Tests Online AU

Why ZPP is tested, when to get testing and the interprtation of the results

Read more on Lab Tests Online AU website

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

Vitamin and mineral supplements: when are they needed? - MyDr.com.au

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

Vitamins & supplements | Jean Hailes

For many people, at many times throughout their lives, eating a well-balanced diet - one that provides you with all the vitamins and minerals that you…

Read more on Jean Hailes for Women's Health 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

Iron intake for vegetarians - MyDr.com.au

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

Pumping iron - Dietitians Australia

Nourishing Nutrients Pumping iron Pumping iron Iron deficiency is not a new subject, especially among women, but it remains the most common micronutrient deficiency in the world

Read more on Dietitians Australia website

Vitamins & minerals for kids & teens | Raising Children Network

Children need vitamins and minerals for health and development. They can get vitamins and minerals by eating a variety of foods from the five food groups.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Children and vitamins

Very few kids actually need to take vitamin and mineral supplements, they can get everything they need from a balanced diet.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Nuts in a healthy diet - MyDr.com.au

Nuts provide protein and are a source of dietary fibre as well as contributing many vitamins and minerals. Many studies show nuts are beneficial to health, especially heart health.

Read more on myDr 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 Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo