How Does Zinc Help the Immune System?

Medically Reviewed on 9/20/2022
How Does Zinc Help the Immune System?
The best way to meet your daily zinc requirement is to consume a healthy diet rich in various whole foods.

Zinc is an important micronutrient for overall health and a strong immune system. Various studies have reported the role of zinc in improving immunity, fighting oxidative stress, and keeping infections at bay.

Zinc supports the immune system in various ways, including:

  • Normal development and function of immune cells, including B cells, macrophages, and natural killer cells
  • Proper coordination between various components of the immune system through appropriate signaling mechanisms
  • Stabilization of the cell membrane of immune cells by protecting them against oxidative stress
  • Production and release of certain chemicals called cytokines involved in immune reactions

Zinc supports every step of the immune process right from the growth and development of immune cells to their fight against offending agents, including bacteria, viruses, and parasites.

Zinc deficiency can cause a weak immune system that may present as frequent infections and poor wound healing. Zinc supplements were proposed to facilitate recovery from several infections including COVID-19 and flu.

What are the other health benefits of zinc?

Zinc is required for the proper functioning of over 300 enzymes in the body that play crucial functions, ranging from DNA repair to growth and reproduction.

Some of the important roles of zinc in the body include:

  • DNA synthesis
  • Wound healing
  • Cell repair
  • Maintenance of skin integrity
  • Protein synthesis
  • Growth and development while in the mother’s womb and during childhood and adolescence
  • Proper taste and smell sensations
  • Healthy gut function
  • Blood sugar regulation (by enhancing insulin action)
  • Carbohydrate digestion
  • May reduce the risk of the eye disease called age-related macular degeneration
  • Reduces chronic inflammation that may contribute to heart disease, cancer, and diabetes

What are the signs of zinc deficiency?

The signs and symptoms of zinc deficiency may vary with people depending on the severity and duration of the deficiency.

Some of the common signs and symptoms of zinc deficiency include:

  • Rough, dry, and scaly skin
  • Hair loss
  • Diarrhea
  • Poor appetite
  • Frequent infections
  • Mood changes or irritability
  • Poor or delayed wound healing
  • Altered sense of taste or smell
  • Loss of weight
  • Vision changes
  • Fertility issues (such as impotence in men)

Who is at a risk of zinc deficiency?

Some people could be especially at risk of developing zinc deficiency, such as:


Next to red peppers, you can get the most vitamin C from ________________. See Answer

How much zinc do you need each day?

The requirement for zinc differs based on age, gender, and any special situations, such as pregnancy or lactation.

Table 1. The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for elemental zinc as recommended by the Food and Nutrition Board
Age RDA* (mg per day)
Infants up to 6 months 3
7 to 12 months 3
1 to 3 years 3
4 to 8 years 5
9 to 13 years 8
14 years and older (men) 11
14 to 18 years (women) 9
19 years and older (women) 8
Pregnant teens (14 to 18 years) 12
Pregnant women (19 years and older) 11
Lactating teens (14 to 18 years) 13
Lactating women (19 years and older) 12
*RDA: It is the average daily level of intake that is enough to meet the nutrient needs of nearly all (97 to 98 percent) healthy people.

Which foods provide zinc?

Zinc is present in various vegetarian and animal foods. The absorption of zinc from vegetarian sources could be inhibited by phytates. Protein, however, facilitates zinc absorption. Thus, vegans and vegetarians could be at a higher risk of zinc deficiency.

Some of the foods rich in zinc include:

  • Meat, including beef and pork
  • Poultry
  • Shellfish
  • Nuts, such as almonds, walnuts, and pistachio
  • Seeds, including flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds
  • Legumes, including beans, lentils, and peas
  • Whole grains
  • Yogurt
  • Fortified cereals

Are there any side effects of zinc supplements?

The best way to meet your daily zinc requirement is to consume a healthy diet rich in various whole foods. This is the safest way because you get various other nutrients apart from zinc without the risk of any “over intake” or toxicity of zinc through foods.

In some cases, the doctor may prescribe zinc supplements to prevent or treat underlying zinc deficiencies. Zinc supplements are generally safe when taken as prescribed by your healthcare provider.

Excess zinc intake can cause side effects, such as:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Bad taste
  • Poor appetite
  • Loss of smell
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Poor copper absorption from the gut, resulting in copper deficiency anemia
  • Interaction with other medications, such as diuretics (water pills) and antibiotics

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Medically Reviewed on 9/20/2022
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