What is zinc?
When you think of zinc, you probably picture a shelf full of cold remedies at the drugstore. But zinc actually protects against much more than sniffles and sneezes. It's a mineral you need (in small amounts) for overall good health, and it's found in every cell of your body. back to top
Why do I need zinc?
Zinc is involved in a wide range of body processes, from cell formation to sexual function to your sense of smell and taste. You need zinc for healthy growth and wound healing, as well to keep your brain working well and to boost your body's ability to fight off illness.
People who don't get enough zinc may get sick more easily, have a poor appetite, or develop skin problems such as acne
and eczema, among other things. On the other hand, people who get too much zinc may damage their body's ability to fight off infection. When it comes to zinc, a little goes a long way. back to top
Do zinc lozenges work for colds?
Not long ago people rushed to buy zinc lozenges to fight off colds. One well-known study showed that sucking on these nasty-tasting things could shorten the length of your cold by as much as three days. On the other hand, a more-recent study that tested zinc lozenges on kids found that they didn't work. The kids who took zinc had colds that lasted just as long as those of kids who were given a fake pill. Some scientists believe now that zinc cold lozenges are more likely to work when taken by people who already have low levels of zinc in their body.
If you've already tried zinc lozenges and they seem to work for you, that's great. You probably already know that it's best to take them after eating because they can cause an upset stomach. Also, be sure to stick to the recommended dose and use zinc lozenges only when you have a cold. These lozenges pack a pretty high dose of zinc, and taking too much of this mineral may be worse for your health than taking too little.
By the way, if your stomach can't handle zinc lozenges, you may want to know about another zinc product on the market for colds: a nasal gel. Early studies suggest that zinc nasal gel works better than lozenges, perhaps because it goes directly to your nose, a big source of your misery. A zinc nasal gel tends to be easier on the stomach. But it's a pretty new product, and the general public hasn't had much of a chance to try it out yet. If you're interested, you can find zinc nasal gel in the "colds" section of drugstores. Be aware that it's not cheap. back to top
What foods are high in zinc?
Zinc is found mostly in meat, fish, and other animal products. It's especially high in oysters, crabmeat, red meat, chicken, and eggs. (There's some zinc in plant sources such as beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains, but your body doesn't absorb it well.)
The average American diet generally includes enough zinc to meet your body's needs. But if you're a vegetarian
and don't eat meat, fish, or chicken, you may not be getting enough zinc in your diet to keep you healthy. And if you're a vegan who has sworn off all animal products, including eggs, it's very likely that you're not getting enough zinc through diet alone.
Symptoms caused by lack of zinc include include wounds that are slow to heal, sleep problems, poor appetite, slowed growth, abnormal periods, eczema, dandruff
, and acne
, among many others. If you're a vegetarian or vegan and you have any of these problems, you may want to talk to your health care provider about a possible zinc deficiency. back to top
Why would I take a zinc supplement?
take a separate zinc supplement to make up for the fact that they don't eat animal products and can't get enough zinc through their diet. You can find zinc dietary supplements in a health-food store and some pharmacies. Note that your recommended daily allowance for zinc is only 12 mg, so if you take a zinc supplement, be sure to stay close to that dose.
And be careful: zinc supplements are not the same as zinc lozenges! Taking zinc lozenges every day for more than the length of a cold will give you far more zinc than you need and can be dangerous to your health. If you're confused about what to buy, ask your pharmacist or a clerk at a good health food store for assistance. Say you're interested in zinc dietary supplements, not zinc cold remedies. back to top
How do I take it?
Try to take zinc when you have some food in your stomach to avoid stomach upset. On the other hand, try not to take zinc supplements at the same time as high-fiber foods, since they may interfere with your body's ability to absorb this mineral properly. back to top
Can I get enough zinc by taking a multivitamin?
Yes. If you're a vegetarian or vegan and want to be sure you're getting enough zinc, taking a multivitamin/multimineral product that includes zinc is an easy way to solve the problem. Many multivitamins contain about 15 mg of zinc, which is just above the recommended daily allowance. back to top
Be sure to stick to the recommended dose! Zinc can be dangerous if you take too much of it. People who've taken doses of zinc as low as 60 mg a day have developed problems fighting off illness, as well as high cholesterol and a type of anemia
. In addition, people receiving chemotherapy or radiation for cancer should discuss taking zinc with their health care provider. Be sure to tell your doctor or health professional if you are taking any herb or supplement.
The use of supplements is not recommended during pregnancy and breast-feeding except under the guidance of a health professional. back to top