Zinc is a trace element that's important in helping the body to make new cells, process food and heal wounds.
Some studies suggest zinc has antioxidant effects and is vital to the body's resistance to infection and for tissue repair. Zinc is also thought to stimulate the immune system.
Zinc has become a popular treatment for the common cold. The NHS says taking zinc syrup, tablets or lozenges may be an effective treatment for colds. A 2011 Cochrane review suggests that taking zinc supplements within a day of the symptoms starting will speed up recovery and lessen the severity of symptoms.
Studies show zinc helps fight infection and heal wounds. However, if you already have enough zinc from your diet, it is not clear that getting even more from supplements has a benefit.
Topical zinc is used to treat nappy rash and skin irritations. Zinc has also been shown to help with ulcers, ADHD, acne, sickle cell anaemia and other conditions.
In addition, zinc has also been studied as a treatment for herpes, high cholesterol, rheumatoid arthritis, HIV and more. However, the evidence of zinc’s benefit for these conditions is inconclusive.
Doctors may recommend zinc supplements for people who have zinc deficiencies. Strict vegetarians, breastfeeding women, alcohol abusers and people who have a poor diet are at higher risk of zinc deficiency, as are those with certain digestive problems, such as Crohn’s disease.
Zinc dose and instructions for use
The NHS says men need 5.5-9.5mg of zinc a day and women need 4-7mg a day.
You should not take more than 25mg of zinc supplements per day, unless advised to do so by your doctor.
To avoid irritating the stomach, take zinc with food.
Zinc food sources
Good food sources of zinc are:
- Red meat
- Oysters, seafood
- Fortified cereals
- Whole grains
- Beans and nuts
Zinc supplement information
Zinc often comes in tablets, and zinc is standard in multivitamins.
Zinc is also available in lotions and creams for skin problems.
Like any supplement, keep zinc supplements in a cool, dry place, away from humidity and direct sunlight.
- Side effects. Zinc supplements can irritate the stomach and mouth. Zinc lozenges can alter your sense of smell and taste for a few days. If taken long term, zinc lozenges may lower copper levels in the body. Zinc sprays have been associated with a loss of smell, which may be permanent.
- Interactions. Zinc may interact with some drugs such as contraceptive pills and some antibiotics. Zinc can also interact with other supplements such as calcium, magnesium, copper and iron. If you take daily medication or supplements, ask your GP about taking zinc.
- Risks. People who are allergic to zinc, have HIV or have haemochromatosis should not take zinc supplements without talking to their doctor first. Too much zinc can cause fever, cough, nausea, reduced immune function, mineral imbalances, cholesterol changes and other issues. In pregnant women, high doses may harm the foetus.