Zinc – Uses, Side Effects, And More
People commonly use zinc for zinc deficiency, diarrhea, and Wilson disease. Zinc is also used for acne, diabetes, anorexia, burns, and many other purposes. There is some scientific evidence to support its use for some of these conditions. But for most, there is no good scientific evidence to support its use. There is also no good evidence to support using zinc for COVID-19.
Uses & Effectiveness ?
- Zinc deficiency. Taking zinc by mouth or giving zinc by IV helps to restore zinc levels in people who are zinc deficient. But taking zinc supplements regularly isn’t recommended. IV products can only be given by a healthcare provider.
Likely Effective for
- Diarrhea. Taking zinc by mouth reduces the duration and severity of diarrhea in children who are undernourished. Zinc 20 mg daily is the most common dose used. But doses of 5-10 mg also seem to work and cause less vomiting.
- An inherited disorder that causes copper to build up in many organs (Wilson disease). Taking zinc by mouth improves symptoms of this condition. Zinc blocks how much copper is absorbed and increases how much copper the body releases.
Possibly Effective for
- Acne. Taking zinc by mouth seems to help treat acne. But it’s unclear how zinc compares to acne medications such as tetracycline or minocycline. Applying zinc to the skin alone in an ointment doesn’t seem to help.
- A disorder of zinc deficiency (acrodermatitis enteropathica). Taking zinc by mouth seems to help improve symptoms of this condition.
- An eye disease that leads to vision loss in older adults (age-related macular degeneration or AMD). Taking zinc by mouth, especially with antioxidant vitamins, might help slow vision loss and prevent age-related vision loss from becoming advanced in people at high risk.
- Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In children, taking zinc by mouth along with medicine for ADHD might help reduce certain ADHD symptoms.
- Common cold. Sucking on lozenges containing zinc gluconate or zinc acetate helps shorten the length of a cold in adults. But it’s not clear if zinc helps to prevent colds.
- Depression. Taking zinc by mouth along with antidepressants seems to improve depression. It might also help in people who don’t respond to treatment with antidepressants alone.
- Diabetes. Taking zinc by mouth might help to improve blood sugar control by a small amount in people with diabetes.
- Diaper rash. Giving zinc gluconate by mouth to infants seems to help heal diaper rash. Applying zinc oxide paste also seems to help. But it doesn’t seem to work as well as applying 2% eosin solution.
- A mild form of gum disease (gingivitis). Using toothpastes containing zinc, with or without an antibacterial agent, seems to help prevent gingivitis.
- Bad breath. Chewing gum, sucking on a candy, or using a mouth rinse containing zinc reduces bad breath.
- Cold sores (herpes labialis). Applying zinc sulfate or zinc oxide to the skin, alone or with other ingredients, seems to reduce the duration and severity of cold sores.
- Reduced ability to taste (hypogeusia). Taking zinc by mouth improves the ability to taste foods in most people who have this condition.
- Skin infection caused by Leishmania parasites (Leishmania lesions). Taking zinc sulfate by mouth or injecting as a solution into lesions helps heal lesions in people with this condition. But it doesn’t seem to work as well as conventional treatments. Injections should only be given by a healthcare provider.
- Leprosy. Taking zinc by mouth in combination with anti-leprosy drugs seems to help treat leprosy.
- Stomach ulcers. Taking zinc acexamate by mouth seems to help treat and prevent stomach ulcers.
- Pneumonia. Taking zinc by mouth might help prevent pneumonia in some children. But it doesn’t seem to help children who already have pneumonia.
- Bed sores (pressure ulcers). Applying zinc paste appears to help heal bed sores. Taking zinc by mouth along with vitamin C and arginine might also help.
- Sickle cell disease. Taking zinc by mouth seems to help reduce symptoms of sickle cell disease in people with zinc deficiency.
- Warts. Applying a zinc ointment appears to be as effective as conventional treatments for curing warts. Taking zinc sulfate by mouth also appears to help.
Possibly Ineffective for
- Patchy hair loss (alopecia areata). Taking zinc by mouth doesn’t seem to help with hair loss.
- Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Taking zinc by mouth doesn’t seem to speed up recovery from COVID-19 in people who haven’t been admitted to the hospital. Zinc also does not improve the response to a drug called hydroxychloroquine.
- Cystic fibrosis. Taking zinc by mouth doesn’t improve lung function in children or adolescents with cystic fibrosis.
- HIV/AIDS. Taking zinc by mouth doesn’t improve immune function or reduce the risk of death in people with HIV.
- Pregnancy complications in people with HIV/AIDS. Taking zinc by mouth during pregnancy does not appear to reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to the infant or prevent other complications.
- Involuntary weight loss in people with HIV/AIDS. Taking zinc by mouth does not appear to prevent diarrhea or death in people with this condition.
- Infant development. Giving zinc by mouth to infants or children at risk for having low levels of zinc doesn’t seem to improve development. But taking zinc by mouth during pregnancy might increase the growth of the child during the first year of life.
- Long-term swelling (inflammation) in the digestive tract (inflammatory bowel disease or IBD). Taking zinc by mouth does not seem to help treat IBD.
- Flu (influenza). Taking zinc by mouth doesn’t seem to improve immune function against the flu.
- Ear infection (otitis media). Taking zinc by mouth doesn’t seem to prevent ear infections in children.
- A pregnancy complication marked by high blood pressure and protein in the urine (pre-eclampsia). Taking zinc does not seem to reduce the risk of high blood pressure in pregnancy.
- Prostate cancer. Taking zinc by mouth does not seem to reduce the risk of getting prostate cancer.
- Scaly, itchy skin (psoriasis). Taking zinc by mouth does not seem to help treat psoriasis.
- Rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Taking zinc by mouth does not seem to help treat rheumatoid arthritis.
- Sexual problems that prevent satisfaction during sexual activity. Taking zinc by mouth does not improve sexual function in males with sexual dysfunction related to kidney disease.
- Ringing in the ears (tinnitus). Taking zinc by mouth does not seem to help treat ringing in the ears.
Likely InEffective for
- Malaria. Taking zinc by mouth does not help prevent or treat malaria in undernourished children in developing countries.
There is interest in using zinc for a number of other purposes, but there isn’t enough reliable information to say whether it might be helpful.
When taken by mouth: Zinc is likely safe when used in amounts no greater than 40 mg daily. It is possibly safe when taken in larger doses, especially when used only for a short period of time. But taking doses higher than 40 mg daily might decrease how much copper the body absorbs. Taking very high doses of zinc is likely unsafe and might cause stomach pain, vomiting, and many other problems. Single doses of 10-30 grams of zinc can be fatal.
When applied to the skin: Zinc is likely safe. Using zinc on broken skin may cause burning, stinging, itching, and tingling.
When inhaled: Zinc is possibly unsafe when inhaled through the nose. It might cause permanent loss of smell. Avoid using nose sprays containing zinc.
Special Precautions and Warnings
Pregnancy: Zinc is likely safe when used in the recommended amounts while pregnant. But it is likely unsafe when used in high doses. Those over 18 should not take more than 40 mg of zinc daily, and those 14-18 years old should not take more than 34 mg daily while pregnant.
Breast-feeding: Zinc is likely safe when used in the recommended amounts while breast-feeding. But zinc is possibly unsafe when used in high doses. Those over 18 years old should not take more than 40 mg of zinc daily, and those 14-18 years old should not take more than 34 mg daily while breast-feeding.
Children: Zinc is likely safe when taken by mouth appropriately in recommended amounts. Daily doses of zinc should not exceed 4 mg daily in infants 0-6 months old, 5 mg daily in infants 7-12 months old, 7 mg daily in children 1-3 years old, 12 mg daily in children 4-8 years old, 23 mg daily in children 9-13 years old, and 34 mg daily in those 14-18 years old.
Alcohol use disorder: Long-term, excessive alcohol drinking may reduce the body’s ability to absorb zinc.
Surgery for weight-loss (bariatric surgery): Bariatric surgery reduces the absorption of zinc and might increase the risk for zinc deficiency. Zinc levels may need to be monitored.
Kidney disease: Low zinc in the diet increases the risk of getting kidney disease. Also, people with kidney disease on hemodialysis are at risk for zinc deficiency and might require zinc supplements.
Vegetarianism: Vegetarian diets are often linked with lower zinc absorption. But the body adapts over time. It becomes better at absorbing zinc and reducing zinc loss.
Be cautious with this combination
Antibiotics (Quinolone antibiotics) interacts with ZINC
Zinc might decrease how much antibiotic the body absorbs from the gut. Taking zinc along with quinolone antibiotics might decrease the effects of these antibiotics. To avoid this interaction, take antibiotics at least 2 hours before or 4-6 hours after zinc supplements.
Antibiotics (Tetracycline antibiotics) interacts with ZINC
Zinc can decrease the amount of tetracyclines the body absorbs. Taking zinc with tetracyclines might decrease the effects of tetracyclines. To avoid this interaction, take tetracyclines 2 hours before or 4-6 hours after taking zinc supplements.
Cisplatin (Platinol-AQ) interacts with ZINC
Cisplatin is used to treat cancer. Taking zinc along with cisplatin might inactivate cisplatin therapy. But it’s not clear if this is a big concern.
Penicillamine (Cuprimine, Depen) interacts with ZINC
Zinc might decrease how much penicillamine the body absorbs. Taking zinc with penicillamine might decrease the effects of penicillamine. Take zinc and penicillamine at least 2 hours apart.
Cephalexin (Keflex) interacts with ZINC
Zinc can reduce how much cephalexin the body absorbs. This might decrease how well cephalexin works for treating infections. To avoid this interaction, take zinc 3 hours after taking cephalexin.
Ritonavir (Norvir) interacts with ZINC
Ritonavir is a drug used for HIV infection. Zinc can reduce how much ritonavir the body absorbs. But it isn’t clear if this is a big concern.
Medications for HIV/AIDS (Integrase inhibitors) interacts with ZINC
Taking zinc along with integrase inhibitors might decrease blood levels of integrase inhibitors. This might decrease the effects of these medications. Talk to your healthcare provider if you are using integrase inhibitors and want to start taking zinc.
Be watchful with this combination
Amiloride (Midamor) interacts with ZINC
Amiloride can increase the amount of zinc in the body. Taking zinc supplements with amiloride might increase zinc levels. But this isn’t likely to be a big concern for most people.
Atazanavir (Reyataz) interacts with ZINC
Atazanavir is a drug used for HIV infection. Zinc decreases how much atazanavir the body absorbs. But the body still absorbs enough atazanavir for it to work for treating HIV. So this interaction is probably not a big concern.
Zinc is an essential nutrient found in foods such as red meat, poultry, and fish. The amount that should be consumed on a daily basis is called the recommended dietary allowance (RDA). For females 18 years of age the RDA is 9 mg, and for females 19 years and older the RDA is 8 mg. For males 18 years and older the RDA is 11 mg. While pregnant, the RDA is 13 mg in those 18 years of age and 11 mg in those 19 years and older. While breast-feeding, the RDA is 17 mg in those 18 years of age and 12 mg in those 19 years and older. In children, the RDA depends on age.
Zinc is also available in supplements, lotions, gels, ointments, mouth rinses, and many other products. Speak with a healthcare provider to find out what type of product and dose might be best for a specific condition.