If you’ve been watching the news lately, there’s no doubt you’ve heard about how zinc benefits your immune system and can even help to fight viral illnesses. But, aside from that, how much do you really know about zinc?
Were you aware that zinc benefits other areas of your health as well? If not, you may be shocked to learn that zinc also supports the health of your eyes, hair, and more! Plus, it’s found in many foods that are readily available at your supermarket.
So, let’s take a look at exactly what zinc is, how it supports your body, and some of the key zinc benefits you need to know about now!
What is Zinc?
Zinc is a trace mineral that your body needs in order to function properly. But in order to truly understand what zinc is, we must first take a closer look at minerals.
Minerals are elements found in nature that can be made up of one element or multiple elements (known as chemical compounds). They’re divided into two categories: macro minerals and trace minerals (also known as micro minerals).
The key difference? While both macro and trace minerals are essential minerals found only in your food (or supplements), you only need small amounts of trace minerals. Conversely, you need larger amounts of macro minerals.
So, even though your body only requires tiny amounts of trace minerals, they’re still essential for proper body function and even healthy development.
This leads us to zinc, which is the second most abundant trace mineral in your body. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) ranges anywhere from 8 to 11 mg, though that amount absolutely varies depending on your current health state and history.
In my clinical experience, I tend to focus on 15 to 50 mg daily as a guideline, which is based on favorable research in that range.
But why is zinc necessary?
Well, first, zinc plays an important role in the function of your immune system and in fighting inflammation.
According to a 2010 study, zinc activates your body’s T-cells, which are known to not only stimulate and moderate your immune system but also help attack invaders (such as viruses, bacteria, and even cancerous cells). 
Additionally, zinc has been shown to fight inflammation, which isn’t only the precursor to many of our modern chronic diseases, but it’s also been tied to worsening symptoms during illness.
In fact, a 2010 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that seniors who took 45 mg of zinc each day for six months experienced a greater reduction in inflammatory markers than those who didn’t take zinc.
The researchers surmised that this effect was due to zinc’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant functions. 
But that’s not all that zinc does for your body. As I mentioned above, it’s absolutely crucial for proper development, with deficiencies being tied to many symptoms and even some disorders.
In fact, studies have shown that supplementing with zinc can actually help improve focus in children diagnosed with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).  It’s believed that this effect occurs due to the fact that zinc helps your brain to manage dopamine, which plays an important role in both memory and focus.
But that’s not all. Zinc is actually involved in more than 250 enzymatic reactions within the body. It aids in healing wounds, supports thyroid hormone production, DNA and RNA replication, making new red and white blood cells, and so much more!
Seems that zinc is a pretty powerful trace mineral, right? Given its importance, let’s take a look at the different forms of zinc.
The Different Types of Zinc
You may be surprised to learn that there are actually different types of zinc. And should you choose to take a supplement, the type of zinc you take is incredibly important.
My two favorite types are zinc bisglycinate and zinc picolinate. Here’s why: Both of these types are bound to a highly absorbable amino acid, which carries the zinc with it into your body. This makes the zinc you take more absorbable, meaning you get more benefits from it.
Conversely, there are several forms of zinc that aren’t well absorbed by the body. These include zinc citrate, zinc gluconate, zinc oxide, and zinc sulfate. Ironically, these are also the types you can more easily find in your local pharmacy!
The takeaway here? If you decide to supplement with zinc, make sure to read the label and take only the highest quality supplements containing the most absorbable forms to get the best zinc benefits.
Top Food Sources of Zinc
Now that we’ve reviewed the best forms of zinc in supplement form, let’s take a look at some of the best food sources of zinc.
Zinc is most commonly found in animal-based food and seafood. But given the toxins and/or hormones that are more readily found in those foods, I prefer to obtain my zinc from plant-based sources. Here are a few foods rich in zinc.
- Nuts and seeds, especially pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
- Wild rice
If you want to include more plant-based foods in your diet that are also rich in zinc, consider incorporating some of the above-listed foods in a healthy rotation.
For example, I like to use chickpeas to make hummus for my kids as a snack. I’m also known to grab a handful of pumpkin seeds for a quick pick-me-up between meals.
If you’re looking to make zinc-rich foods a feature in a dish, try my Wild Rice Soup, which is sure to please the whole family!
Now that you know why zinc is so important and some of the best natural food sources for it, let’s take a closer look at some of those specific zinc benefits you can expect to get.
The Top 5 Zinc Benefits
Here are five of the top zinc benefits for your health and wellbeing.
1. Shown to shorten length of cold by 42 percent
It’s common knowledge that zinc can help relieve cold symptoms, largely thanks to its impact on the immune system. But did you know that zinc benefits your health by shortening the duration of a cold by almost half?
According to a 2011 study, using a minimum of 75 mg each day of zinc lozenges reduced cold duration by up to 42 percent! Interestingly, the study found that using zinc lozenges in daily dosages of less than 75 mg had no effect. 
2. Supports vision and overall eye health
Believe it or not, according to numerous studies, zinc benefits your eye health as well!
One study revealed that taking high doses of zinc (80 mg) significantly reduced people’s odds of developing advanced age-related macular degeneration, even in those who were considered to be high-risk. 
Other studies have confirmed the importance of zinc in maintaining eye health. This is due to the fact that zinc is present in high concentrations throughout your ocular tissue.
In fact, it’s particularly present in your retina and choroid. (Your choroid actually supplies your outer retina with nutrients and even regulates the temperature of your eye.) As a result, researchers have stated that zinc “appears to play an integral role in maintaining normal ocular function.” 
3. Helps resolve diarrhea
If you’ve ever had diarrhea, you know how uncomfortable, worrisome, and exhausting it can be. But if a child begins to experience several bouts of diarrhea, it can be absolutely frightening.
Amazingly, studies have shown that zinc benefits children who experience persistent diarrhea. In fact, one study showed that when children with persistent diarrhea supplemented with zinc, they were 24 percent less likely to continue having diarrhea. 
Even the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF recommend that children supplementing with zinc in the event they have acute diarrhea. Not only does it help to decrease the severity of the episodes, but it also has been shown to prevent future occurrences!
4. May support fertility
If you’ve ever struggled with infertility, there’s a chance that zinc deficiency may have played a role. And this seems to be especially true for men.
According to a 2018 review, researchers have found that zinc displays a hormone balancing role and actually supports testosterone, the prostate, and even acts as an anti-bacterial agent in men’s urea system.
They also noted that zinc “is essential for maintaining the lining of the reproductive organs.” Perhaps most interestingly, according to multiple studies, zinc benefits sperm quality as well, with a direct relationship shown between levels and sperm quality. 
5. Promotes hair growth and repair
Finally, zinc benefits extend into the beauty realm as well. Not only has zinc deficiency been linked to hair loss, but supplementing with zinc has been shown to help treat alopecia. 
One study notably found that when alopecia patients supplemented with 50 mg of zinc daily for 12 weeks, approximately 66 percent saw improvement in hair regrowth. 
And in another study, every patient with zinc deficiency-related alopecia who supplemented with zinc either improved or cured their hair loss. 
So, if you’re suffering from hair loss, a zinc deficiency and supplementation may warrant consideration.
As you can see, zinc is an incredibly important trace mineral for your overall health and wellbeing. If you suspect that you may be low in zinc, begin adding more zinc-rich foods into your diet and speak with your doctor about the possible need for additional supplementation.
- Zinc is the second most abundant trace mineral in your body, responsible for aiding many bodily functions.
- Zinc benefits many areas of your body, including your eye health, immune system, skin health, fertility, and more.
- While there are many types of zinc, the two most absorbable types are zinc biglycinate and zinc picolinate.
- Some great plant-based sources of zinc include: asparagus, chickpeas, kale, nuts and seeds, mushrooms, peas, quinoa, and wild rice.