Zinc and Health

Zinc and Health

Zinc and General Health

  • Zinc boosts the immune system Zinc is involved in cell division and DNA replication and is therefore essential for the production of immune system cells.
  • Zinc is a component of the thymic hormone which controls and facilitates the maturation of lymphocytes [1,2].
  • Severe zinc deficiency depresses immune function [3]. Mild zinc deficiency is associated with increased susceptibility to pneumonia and other infections. [4-7]

Zinc and the Common Cold

  • Zinc may reduce the duration and severity of cold symptoms by acting locally as an antiviral agent and astringent.
  • The effectiveness of zinc treatment (zinc lozenges, nasal sprays and nasal gels) on the severity and duration of cold symptoms remains controversial [8-12].
  • A review in 2007 from 14 different studies reported that half of the studies showed a beneficial effect and half showed no effect of zinc treatment [13].

Zinc and Men's Health

  • Zinc is needed for the production of healthy sperm and increases sperm count and motility [13].
  • Zinc is necessary to maintain normal levels of testosterone [14].
  • Zinc deficiency has been shown to predispose the prostrate gland to infection [15].

Zinc heals and protects skin

  • Zinc helps maintain the integrity of skin and topical zinc preparations are used to treat a variety of skin problems.
  • zinc oxide is used to treat nappy rash, chapped lips and dry skin. Zinc sulphate is used for the treatment of acne, cold sores and burns.
  • Internally, zinc stimulates cell division, connective tissue formation and transport of Vitamin A from the liver to the skin, helping to protect and repair body tissues especially the skin [17].

Zinc and athletic performance

  • Strenuous exercise causes loss of zinc through sweat and redistribution between blood plasma and red blood cells.
  • Athletes may develop zinc deficiency especially when exercise is combined with high carbohydrate diets which are commonly low in zinc.
  • A daily intake of zinc is required to maintain a steady state because the body has no specialized zinc storage system [18]

Zinc and chronic disease

  • The role of zinc in the development of chronic diseases such as heart disease is an emerging field of research [19].
  • Work by Dr. Beattie's research team suggests that zinc deficiency over a lifetime may encourage the development of the vascular disease known as atherosclerosis [20].
  • Studies on the impact of zinc status on vascular health and disease are on-going.


1. 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

2. Beck FW, Prasad AS, Kaplan J, Fitzgerald JT, Brewer GJ. Changes in cytokine production and T cell subpopulations in experimentally induced zinc-deficient humans. Am J Physiol 1997;272:E1002-7.

3. Shankar AH, Prasad AS. Zinc and immune function: the biological basis of altered resistance to infection. Am J Clin Nutr 1998;68:447S-63S.

4. Bahl R, Bhandari N, Hambidge KM, Bhan MK. Plasma zinc as a predictor of diarrheal and respiratory morbidity in children in an urban slum setting. Am J Clin Nutr 1998;68 (2 Suppl):414S-7S.

5. Brooks WA, Santosham M, Naheed A, Goswami D, Wahed MA, Diener-West M, et al. Effect of weekly zinc supplements on incidence of pneumonia and diarrhoea in children younger than 2 years in an urban, low-income population in Bangladesh: randomised controlled trial. Lancet 2005;366:999-1004.

6. Meydani SN, Barnett JB, Dallal GE, Fine BC, Jacques PF, Leka LS, et al. Serum zinc and pneumonia in nursing home elderly. Am J Clin Nutr 2007;86:1167-73.

7. Black RE. Zinc deficiency, infectious disease and mortality in the developing world. J Nutr 2003;133:1485S-9S.

8. Hulisz D. Efficacy of zinc against common cold viruses: an overview. J Am Pharm Assoc (2003) 2004;44:594-603.

9. Prasad AS, Beck FW, Bao B, Snell D, Fitzgerald JT. Duration and severity of symptoms and levels of plasma interleukin-1 receptor antagonist, soluble tumor necrosis factor receptor, and adhesion molecules in patients with common cold treated with zinc acetate. J Infect Dis 2008 ;197:795-802.

10. Turner RB, Cetnarowski WE. Effect of treatment with zinc gluconate or zinc acetate on experimental and natural colds. Clin Infect Dis 2000;31:1202-8.

11. Eby GA, Halcomb WW. Ineffectiveness of zinc gluconate nasal spray and zinc orotate lozenges in common-cold treatment: a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Altern Ther Health Med 2006;12:34-8.

12. Marshall I. Zinc for the common cold. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2000;(2):CD001364. Caruso TJ, Prober CG, Gwaltney JM Jr. Treatment of naturally acquired common colds with zinc: a structured review. Clin Infect Dis 2007;45:569-74.

13. Caruso TJ, Prober CG, Gwaltney JM Jr. Treatment of naturally acquired common colds with zinc: a structured review. Clin Infect Dis 2007;45:569-74.

14. Wong WY, Merkus HM, Thomas CM, Menkveld R, Zielhuis GA and Steegers-Theunissen RP (2002) Effects of folic acid and zinc sulfate on male factor subfertility: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Fertil Steril 77,491–498.

15. Favier AE. The role of zinc in reproduction. Hormonal mechanisms. Biol Trace Elem Res. 1992 Jan-Mar;32:363-82. Review. PubMed PMID: 1375078.

16. Costello LC, Franklin RB. Novel role of zinc in the regulation of prostate citrate metabolism and its implications in prostate cancer. Prostate. 1998 Jun 1;35(4):285-96. Review. PubMed PMID: 9609552.

17. Wintergerst ES, Maggini S, Hornig DH. Contribution of selected vitamins and trace elements to immune function. Ann Nutr Metab 2007;51:301-23.

18. Rink L, Gabriel P. Zinc and the immune system. Proc Nutr Soc 2000;59:541-52.

19. Beattie J.H. and Kwun I.S. (2004). Is zinc deficiency a risk factor for atherosclerosis? British Journal of Nutrition , 91 :177-181

20. Beattie J.H., Gordon M-J., Rucklidge G.J., Reid M.D., Duncan G.J., Horgan G.W., Cho Y.E. and Kwun I.S. (2008). Aorta protein networks in marginal and acute zinc deficiency. Proteomics , 8 : 2126-2135.