Your body absorbs 20 - 40% of the zinc present in food. Zinc from animal foods like red meat, fish, and poultry is more readily absorbed by the body than zinc from plant foods. Zinc is best absorbed when taken with a meal that contains protein.
The best sources of zinc are oysters (richest source), red meats, poultry, cheese (ricotta, Swiss, gouda), shrimp, crab, and other shellfish. Other good, though less easily absorbed, sources of zinc include legumes (especially lima beans, black-eyed peas, pinto beans, soybeans, peanuts), whole grains, miso, tofu, brewer's yeast, cooked greens, mushrooms, green beans, tahini, and pumpkin, and sunflower seeds.
Zinc is available in several forms. Zinc sulfate is the least expensive form, but it is the least easily absorbed and may cause stomach upset.
More easily absorbed forms of zinc are zinc picolinate, zinc citrate, zinc acetate, zinc glycerate, and zinc monomethionine. If zinc sulfate causes stomach irritation, you can try another form, such as zinc citrate.
The amount of elemental zinc is listed on the product label (usually 30 - 50 mg). To determine the amount to take in supplement form, remember that you get about 10 - 15 mg from food.
Zinc lozenges, used for treating colds, are available in most drug stores. There are also nasal sprays developed to reduce nasal and sinus congestion, although they may have some safety issues (see “Precautions”).
How to Take It
You should take zinc with water or juice. If zinc causes stomach upset, it can be taken with meals. Don't take zinc at the same time as iron or calcium supplements.
A strong relationship exists between zinc and copper. Too much of one can cause a deficiency in the other. If you take zinc, including zinc in a multivitamin, you should also take copper.
Do not give zinc supplements to a child without talking to your doctor.
Daily intake of dietary zinc (according to the National Academy of Sciences) are listed below:
- Infants birth - 6 months: 2 mg (AI)
- Infants 7 - 12 months: 3 mg (RDA)
- Children 1 - 3 years: 3 mg (RDA)
- Children 4 - 8 years: 5 mg (RDA)
- Children 9 - 13 years: 8 mg (RDA)
- Boys 14 - 18 years: 11 mg (RDA)
- Girls 14 - 18 years: 9 mg (RDA)
- Men 19 years and older: 11 mg (RDA)
- Women 19 years and older: 8 mg (RDA)
- Pregnant women 14 - 18 years: 12 mg (RDA)
- Pregnant women 19 years and older: 11 mg (RDA)
- Breastfeeding women 14 - 18 years: 13 mg (RDA)
- Breastfeeding women 19 years and older: 12 mg (RDA)
You should not take high doses of zinc for more than a few days unless your doctor tells you to. Talk to your doctor before taking more than 40 mg of zinc per day and take breaks from zinc supplementation. During those breaks, get zinc from a well-balanced diet.
Because of the potential for side effects and interactions with medications, you should take dietary supplements only under the supervision of a knowledgeable health care provider.
Research has shown that less than 40 mg a day is a safe amount to take over time, but researchers are not sure what happens if more is taken over a long period. Additional concerns have been raised about combining multivitamins and additional zinc supplements and an increased risk of dying from prostate cancer. Speak with physician.
Taking 100 mg of zinc daily, or taking supplemental zinc for 10 years or longer, has been linked with a doubling of the risk developing prostate cancer in men.
Common side effects of zinc include stomach upset, nausea, vomiting, and a metallic taste in the mouth. High doses of zinc can cause dizziness, headache, drowsiness, increased sweating, loss of muscle coordination, alcohol intolerance, hallucinations, and anemia.
There are reports that a single dose of zinc as high as 10-30 grams can be lethal.
Very high doses of zinc may actually weaken immune function. High doses of zinc may also lower HDL ("good") cholesterol and raise LDL ("bad") cholesterol.
Some people who have used certain zinc nasal sprays to treat a cold have lost their sense of smell. Talk to your doctor before using a zinc nasal spray.
If you are being treated with any of the following medications, you should not use zinc without first talking to your health care provider.
Amiloride (Midamor) -- Amiloride is a potassium-sparing diuretic (water pill) that may increase the levels of zinc in your blood. Do not take zinc supplements if you take amiloride.
Blood pressure medications, ACE Inhibitors -- A class of medications called ACE inhibitors, used to treat high blood pressure, may decrease the levels of zinc in your blood. ACE inhibitors include:
- Benazepril (Lotensin)
- Captopril (Capoten)
- Enalapril (Vasotec)
- Fosinopril (Monopril)
- Lisinopril (Zestril)
- Moexipril (Univasc)
- Perindopril (Aceon)
- Quinapril (Accupril)
- Ramipril (Altace)
- Trandolapril (Mavik)
Antibiotics -- Zinc may decrease your body's absorption of two kinds of antibiotics, quinolones and tetracyclines. These include:
- Ciprofloxacin (Cipro)
- Gatifloxacin (Tequin)
- Levofloxacin (Levaquin)
- Moxifloxacin (Avelox)
- Norfloxacin (Noroxin)
- Ofloxacin (Floxin)
- Demeclocycline (Declomycin)
- Minocycline (Minocin)
However, doxycycline (Vibramycin) does not seem to interact with zinc.
Cisplatin (Platinol-AQ) -- This drug, used for chemotherapy to treat some types of cancers, may cause more zinc to be lost in your urine. If you are undergoing chemotherapy, do not take zinc or any other supplement without talking to your oncologist.
Deferoxamine (Desferal) -- This medication, used to remove excess iron from the blood, also increases the amount of zinc that is lost in urine.
Immunosuppressant medications -- Since zinc may make the immune system stronger, it should not be taken with corticosteroids (such as prednisone), cyclosporine, or other medications intended to suppress the immune system.
Penicillamine -- This medication, used to treat Wilson's disease (where excess copper builds up in the brain, liver, kidney, and eyes) and rheumatoid arthritis, decreases the levels of zinc in your blood.
Thiazide diuretics (water pills) -- These medications lower the amount of zinc in your blood by increasing the amount of zinc that is passed in your urine. If you take thiazide diuretics, your doctor will monitor levels of zinc and other important minerals in your blood:
- Chlorothiazide (Diuril)
- Chlorthalidone (Hygroton)
- Indapamide (Lozol)
- Metolozone (Zaroxolyn)
- Polythiazide (Renese)
- Quinethazone (Hydromox)
- Trichlormethiazide (Metahydrin, Naqua, Diurese)
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