It can be tempting to load up on zinc at the first sign of the sniffles or a tickle in your throat. But if you’re not on the cusp of sickness or you’re not deficient, chances are you probably haven’t thought twice about your zinc intake.
As a trace mineral, the body doesn’t require massive amounts of zinc, and because it’s widely available in both plant and animal food sources, most people get enough through diet.
But for those who might not be consuming pumpkin seeds or oysters, how are you supposed to fulfill your needs? The solution: supplementation.
Before you go buck wild with the zinc supplements to prevent a deficiency, it’s essential to understand how zinc works and what happens if you take too much.
You’ll want to keep reading if being backed up isn’t on your agenda. We’ll cover the basics of zinc and its function, how much you need, and why excess zinc could leave you constipated.
Let’s get started.
What Is Zinc And Why Do You Need It?
Although most of us think of zinc as just another mineral that our bodies need - it’s actually pretty essential.
It’s the second most abundant trace mineral and is involved in over 100 chemical reactions in the body. Two of the most notable roles of the mineral are in men’s reproductive health and immune function, but there are plenty aside from that.
Zinc also has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that most people are unaware of. Several chronic diseases such as atherosclerosis, diabetes, neurodegenerative disorders, Parkinson’s, and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) have an inflammatory and oxidative stress component, which makes compounds like zinc essential for protecting cells against damage and inflammation 1.
Because of these roles and their involvement in the immune system, zinc supplementation may reduce the incidence of infections, decrease oxidative stress levels, and decrease the production of inflammatory molecules.
On top of that, the body also requires zinc for 2:
- Hormone production
- Epithelial integrity
- Maintain lining of reproductive organics
- Skin health
- Immune function and wound healing
- DNA synthesis and cell division
- Cognitive function
Benefits Of Zinc
Although we’re not going to dive too much into the details of zinc, here are the basics you need to know about why zinc is important:
1. Supports immune cell function
Zinc ranks up there with vitamin C for immune health. It’s been known for some time that zinc is involved in several aspects of immune function, ranging from epithelial barrier function to gene regulation within lymphocytes.
Still, it’s also needed for the normal development and function of many cells mediating the nonspecific immune response.
Zinc deficiency has been linked to impaired immune function and interferes with the development of acquired immunity 3. Low zinc levels also compromise B lymphocyte development, antibody production, and macrophage function.
We also have to look at the role of zinc and the thymus. Thymulin, a thymus-specific hormone, requires zinc for its biological activity; thymulin binds to high-affinity receptors on T-cells to induce T-cell markers, promote proper T-cell function, and support the production of interleukin-2 (IL-2). On top of that, zinc is also involved in natural killer (NK) cells’ activity, which supports enhanced cellular killing 5.
Studies also suggest that people who consume zinc after coming down with a cold recover significantly faster than those who don’t 6. So, if that’s not an incentive to maintain zinc levels, we’re not sure what is.
2. Maintains skin health
Struggling with dry skin? Can’t seem to get rid of those pesky pimples that pop up all over? You could need a little more zinc in your diet.
Zinc has been used for centuries for dermatological purposes, with topical solutions of zinc oxide, calamine lotion, or zinc pyrithione for photoprotection from UVB rays, soothing agents from bug bites, or as an active ingredient in antidandruff shampoos 7.
It’s also been used successfully for several dermatological conditions, including:
- Infections (warts)
- Inflammatory dermatoses (acne vulgaris, rosacea)
- Pigmentation disorders (melasma)
- Neoplasias (basal cell carcinoma)
Other conditions for which topical or oral zinc supplementation has been beneficial include leprosy, herpes, psoriasis, eczema, ulcers, alopecia, vitiligo, keloids, and even anti-aging 7. Its anti-bacterial, astringent, and barrier-protective properties also make it a must for skin health.
3. Manages blood sugar
Managing blood sugar is more than just supplementation, but there’s a good amount of research supporting the role of zinc in blood sugar management.
A 2020 study published in the Journal of Family and Community Medicine found that 67.9% of people in the study group with diabetes were zinc deficient, compared to just 6.4% in the control group 8; it’s unknown whether diabetes causes zinc deficiency or vice versa.
But it’s good news from here. Recent research suggests that zinc supplementation could improve blood sugar control, promote healthy lipid levels in people with diabetes, and improve insulin sensitivity among obese people 9, 10.
Because zinc is involved in the storage and secretion of insulin, it could benefit people who struggle with blood sugar regulation 11.
4. Reduces oxidative stress and inflammation
As mentioned, inflammation and oxidative stress underlie several chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, IBD, diabetes, COPD, arthritis, and allergies 12. Although several other factors also contribute to the development of diseases, micronutrient deficiencies are a biggie.
Because zinc has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that support immune function, it could help to reduce inflammation and prevent increases in oxidative stress levels.
Research shows that zinc modulates the proinflammatory response by targeting nuclear factor kappa B (NF-κB), a transcription factor also the primary regulator of the pro-inflammatory response 13.
Zinc supplementation has been shown to upregulate A20, a zinc transcription factor, and inhibit activation of NF-κB, leading to a decrease in the production of inflammatory cytokines 14.
Zinc Deficiency Signs And Symptoms
Zinc deficiency is a real possibility for anyone who doesn’t consume sufficient zinc through diet and isn’t supplementing.
The most common reason for a zinc deficiency is an inadequate intake, but it can also develop from increased requirements, malabsorption, increased losses, and impaired utilization 15.
For those struggling with marginal zinc deficiency, there are some key signs to look out for 2:
- Impaired immunity
- Impaired sense of taste and smell
- Night blindness
- Impaired memory
- Decreased spermatogenesis in men
When a severe deficiency sets in, you’ll start to see:
- Severely weakened immunity
- Frequent illness and infection
- Bullous pustular dermatitis
- Mental disturbances
How Much Zinc Do You Need?
While it’s clear that getting enough zinc is non-negotiable, how much do you need? The range between safe and unsafe supplementation amounts is relatively narrow, so sticking to the recommended intake values is important to avoid toxicity.
The tolerable upper intake level (UL) for zinc is just 40 mg, the highest intake level considered safe without adverse side effects. However, recommended daily intake falls lower, around 8 mg to 11 mg for women and men, respectively 16.
Luckily, there are plenty of sources for vegans and meat eaters alike. The highest food sources of zinc are red meat, poultry, and seafood, while whole grains, pumpkin seeds, and fortified cereals are also good sources. If you’re a seafood fan, just 3 ounces contains up to 673% of the daily intake value for zinc!
While taking zinc from food is always recommended, supplements are the next best in line - but you don’t want to go crazy with them.
Zinc Overdose And Constipation
Unlike water-soluble vitamins excreted through urine if in excess, minerals don’t quite work that way, so going overboard on supplementation can be problematic.
The body can tolerate higher doses of certain nutrients without treading into toxicity territory, but with certain ones, there is too much of a good thing - zinc is one of those nutrients.
The tolerable upper intake level for zinc has been set at 40 mg daily for adults, which signifies the highest safe dosage. For most people, 40 mg of zinc daily is unlikely to cause issues or side effects.
Zinc toxicity and overdose are a thing, but the only way people can overdose on zinc is through supplements. Excessive amounts - we’re talking about intakes between 50 mg and 150 mg per day - can lead to plenty of nasty side effects, including the potential for constipation.
Abdominal effects are noted often in people who consume high levels of zinc, but some other side effects include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Stomach pain
- Gut irritation
- Flu-like symptoms (fever, chills, cough, headache, fatigue)
- Low HDL cholesterol
- Hypogeusia (dysfunction in the sense of taste)
- Copper deficiency
- Frequent illness or infection
Although constipation is one of the less frequent side effects of excessive zinc, why risk it? Getting your share of zinc in a controlled dosage from something like Performance Lab NutriGenesis Multi is a much better solution.
It’s the ultimate upgrade to conventional multis by supplying 100% RDI of 17+ essential vitamins and minerals in their most bioavailable form.
No need to stress about not absorbing what you’re taking - NutriGenesis vitamins and minerals are complexed with cofactors to enhance absorption and bioactivities. That way, you get the right amount of zinc for peak performance across all body systems.
And if you’re struggling with constipation, increasing your zinc intake beyond the recommended amounts might not be the best solution.
Instead, try something that works: Performance Lab Prebiotic. There’s nothing nice or comfortable about being constipated, and Prebiotic is a simple fix.
As the ultimate 2-in-1 probiotic + soluble fiber supplement, Prebiotic is designed to support healthy gastrointestinal and microbiome performance, top to bottom.
Whether you struggle with constipation, gas, or bloating, Prebiotic nourishes your gut bacteria to improve overall digestive function and all biological activities that stem from the gut.
It’s a simple solution to relieve backups far more effectively (and far less dangerously) than mega-dosing zinc.
- Prasad AS. Zinc: an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent: role of zinc in degenerative disorders of aging. J Trace Elem Med Biol. 2014;28(4):364-371.
- Prasad AS. Zinc: an overview. 1995;11(1 Suppl):93-99.
- Shankar AH, Prasad AS. Zinc and immune function: the biological basis of altered resistance to infection. Am J Clin Nutr. 1998;68(2 Suppl):447S-463S.
- Prasad AS. Zinc in human health: effect of zinc on immune cells. Mol Med. 2008;14(5-6):353-357.
- Rolles B, Maywald M, Rink L. Influence of zinc deficiency and supplementation on NK cell cytotoxicity. J Funct Foods. 2018;48:322-328.
- Hemilä H, Fitzgerald JT, Petrus EJ, Prasad A. Zinc Acetate Lozenges May Improve the Recovery Rate of Common Cold Patients: An Individual Patient Data Meta-Analysis. Open Forum Infect Dis. 2017;4(2):ofx059.
- Gupta M, Mahajan VK, Mehta KS, Chauhan PS. Zinc therapy in dermatology: a review. Dermatol Res Pract. 2014;2014:709152.
- Farooq DM, Alamri AF, Alwhahabi BK, Metwally AM, Kareem KA. The status of zinc in type 2 diabetic patients and its association with glycemic control. J Family Community Med. 2020;27(1):29-36.
- Jayawardena R, Ranasinghe P, Galappatthy P, Malkanthi R, Constantine G, Katulanda P. Effects of zinc supplementation on diabetes mellitus: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Diabetol Metab Syndr. 2012;4(1):13.
- Cruz KJ, Morais JB, de Oliveira AR, Severo JS, Marreiro DD. The Effect of Zinc Supplementation on Insulin Resistance in Obese Subjects: a Systematic Review. Biol Trace Elem Res. 2017;176(2):239-243.
- Cruz KJ, de Oliveira AR, Marreiro Ddo N. Antioxidant role of zinc in diabetes mellitus. World J Diabetes. 2015;6(2):333-337.
- Pahwa R, Goyal A, Jialal I. Chronic Inflammation. (Updated 2022 Jun 19). In: StatPearls (Internet). Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK493173/
- Gammoh NZ, Rink L. Zinc in Infection and Inflammation. 2017;9(6):624.
- Prasad AS. Zinc is an Antioxidant and Anti-Inflammatory Agent: Its Role in Human Health. Front Nutr. 2014;1:14.
- Roohani N, Hurrell R, Kelishadi R, Schulin R. Zinc and its importance for human health: An integrative review. J Res Med Sci. 2013;18(2):144-157.
- Institute of Medicine. Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium, and Zinc Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 2001.