nutrition

Medically Reviewed

How to Choose The Best Zinc Supplement For You in 2024

In this article, we’ll explore why people might take zinc supplements and how to understand quality, dosage, when to take, and more.

If you need to find the best zinc supplement for your needs, there are many factors to consider. Zinc is an important mineral that supports normal immune system function, sense of smell, and more. You can get it from foods, but there are many reasons why your doctor might recommend a supplement.

In this article, we’ll explore why people might take zinc supplements and how to understand quality, dosage, when to take, and more.

Are Zinc Supplements Necessary?

Most people in the U.S. get enough zinc from food sources, but there are some factors that may lead to a higher risk for inadequate intake, deficiency, or problems absorbing this important mineral.

These include:

  • Pregnancy
  • Breastfeeding
  • Older age
  • Vegan diet
  • Frequent alcohol use
  • Gastrointestinal conditions

If your doctor suggests a zinc supplement, it’s important to follow their recommendations. Zinc and other minerals can accumulate in the body and can also disrupt the balance of other minerals if they are consumed at higher amounts. Zinc can also interact with medications, so it’s important to make sure that your doctor and pharmacist are aware of what you are taking.

What to Consider when Choosing a Zinc Supplement

When you choose a zinc supplement, you will want to consider the form of the nutrient, dosage, ingredients, quality, and more.

The form of zinc

When you consider the form of a supplement, there are two aspects:

  • The form of the nutrient
  • How the supplement is formulated

The form refers to the chemical structure of the nutrient. There are several forms of zinc, including zinc picolinate, zinc citrate, zinc oxide, zinc sulfate, zinc acetate, zinc glycerate, zinc monomethionine, and more. Some older research indicates that some forms, like zinc citrate, may absorb better than zinc oxide, but newer studies are needed to compare the bioavailability of the different forms of zinc.

Zinc supplements come in several different formulations. These can include capsules, liquids, lozenges, gummies, or tablets. Zinc is also typically found in multivitamin and prenatal supplements. The way that you take zinc is typically less important than finding a formula that works for you. If you struggle to swallow capsules, consider a lozenge or liquid.

Dosage

The dosage and serving size of zinc supplements vary. Zinc supplements typically range from 15–30 mg per serving. Because zinc is a mineral that can accumulate in the body, be mindful of your doctor’s recommendations.

The tolerable upper intake level for zinc is 40 mg per day for adults. While some medical providers may suggest short-term higher zinc intakes if a deficiency is present, long-term intakes higher than 40 mg can disrupt the copper-zinc balance, which can have a negative impact on the immune system and certain copper-dependent antioxidants and enzymes. Excessive zinc intake from supplements may also disrupt magnesium absorption.

Ingredients & quality

When you choose a supplement, the ingredients and overall quality can make a big difference.

If you have allergies, sensitivities, dietary values, or other ingredient concerns it’s essential to closely read the supplement facts and additional ingredients label.

While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sets regulatory standards for supplement manufacturers, it puts the burden of compliance on the companies themselves. Many brands have their products third-party tested, verified, or certified by independent organizations. This demonstrates trustworthiness to customers and helps to establish brand trust and reliability.

Some certifications to look for include:

  • Certified C.L.E.A.N.
  • National Sanitation Foundation (NSF)
  • U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP)
  • Non-GMO Project Verified

What is Zinc?

Zinc is an essential mineral. It’s needed for a range of functions including everything from cell metabolism, DNA integrity, immune function to normal growth, development, and more. In the human body, zinc is primarily stored within the bones and skeletal muscles.

Healthcare providers can measure zinc in a person’s blood plasma or serum, although the tests are not perfect. A person’s age and the time of day can affect results, which can mean that the “normal range” isn’t always applicable. Zinc status in the blood can vary between morning and evening, regardless of dietary intake or supplement use. Certain exposures, hormone levels, weight loss, and more can also affect how zinc stores are accurately measured.

Healthcare providers may use risk factors associated with zinc to help determine a person’s likely zinc status. Those who have low food intake, malnutrition, gastrointestinal issues, or chronic alcohol use may have zinc supplements recommended even if their serum levels appear to be normal.

There are many foods that contain zinc, such as:

  • Beef
  • Blue crab
  • Fortified breakfast cereals
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Pork
  • Turkey
  • Cheese
  • Shrimp
  • Lentils
  • Sardines
  • Greek yogurt
  • Milk

What are the Benefits of Zinc?

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) maintains current data and benefits from vitamins and minerals. There are many benefits of zinc. Some of the most essential impacts are discussed below.

Immune system support

Your body needs zinc to maintain a healthy immune system. Zinc is needed for cell division, protein synthesis, and DNA replication. There are more than 300 zinc metalloproteins and more than 2,000 transcription factors that rely on zinc to properly express proteins.

Zinc supports the thymus and lymphatic system, which are important components of a healthy immune system response. All of these are necessary for every system in the body, but the immune system has to be a first responder to everyday exposures, and is especially dependent on rapid DNA and cellular responses.

Zinc needs may also temporarily increase when the immune system is more active, and studies have found that zinc lozenges may be effective ways to enhance the body’s intake.

When it comes to immune system support, zinc is important but there are many other essential nutrients that the body needs. These include vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin D, and selenium.

Sexual health support

Zinc supports healthy testosterone conversion in people born male. When zinc stores are inadequate or intake is low, this could make it harder for the body to maintain balanced hormone levels. A systematic review of studies noted that low zinc levels are consistently linked to reduced serum testosterone. The review confirmed the association between zinc and other trace minerals, and that healthcare providers should individualize supplementation to a patient’s nutrient needs.

More studies are needed to understand the specific dosage of zinc and length of supplementation protocol that may be best for testosterone support. Research looking at zinc and the association between sperm health and fertility parameters concluded that 50 mg of zinc supported sperm motility and testosterone balance, but that amount is higher than the tolerable upper intake level and should not be done without the recommendation and supervision of a medical provider.

Potential Side Effects

Zinc supplements can cause nausea if taken on an empty stomach. Minerals absorb best when taken with food, but don’t take zinc at the same time as standalone calcium or iron supplements.

When zinc is taken at higher amounts, or levels become high for other reasons, this can lead to symptoms like diarrhea, abdominal cramping, and nausea. Too much zinc can also lead to disruptions in copper mineral balance or iron deficiency.

Frequently Asked Questions

When should you take zinc?

Take zinc with a meal to avoid nausea or upset stomach. You can take zinc at any time of the day, but don’t take it with other medications or minerals unless your healthcare provider says otherwise.

What form of zinc is the best for absorption?

Whether you take capsules, lozenges, liquids, or other types of zinc supplements, they tend to be digested and used similarly by the body.

The form of the nutrient may impact how well zinc absorbs, although research does not definitely answer the question as to which form is best. Forms of zinc that are considered to be more easily absorbed are zinc citrate, zinc bisglycinate, zinc picolinate, and zinc gluconate.

Can you take zinc daily?

Yes, you can take zinc daily. However, you shouldn’t take zinc supplements unless your healthcare provider has suggested it. The tolerable upper intake level is 40 mg of zinc, so be sure to follow your medical provider’s recommendations and avoid taking too much.

Does zinc help with hair loss?

There’s a lot of anecdotal information on the internet about zinc and hair. Some systematic reviews and literature have found that in certain contexts, zinc may support people who have hair loss. It’s important to work with your healthcare provider if you have hair loss, because there are many possible triggers. Taking zinc or other minerals if you don’t need them can lead to health issues on their own.

Do zinc supplements make you sleepy?

No, zinc supplements do not induce sleep or cause drowsiness. Research has found that zinc may help to modulate aspects of the central nervous system, including sleep, but the mechanisms are unknown. Having adequate zinc stores and intake is important for overall health, but zinc does not directly impact sleep.

Can zinc cause constipation?

Constipation is not a common side effect of zinc supplementation in adults. It can be recommended to replenish nutritional stores after acute diarrhea. However, unless zinc is consumed in excess, it is not typically linked with constipation or diarrhea.

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