Why You Need Zinc at Every Age

Zinc is a micro mineral with macro importance for the human body. We only need a little, but it sure goes a long way. In fact, zinc is the second most abundant micro mineral in your body, next to iron. This nutrient is present in every cell, and plays hundreds of important roles in the body that can benefit your immune health, reproductive health, vision, skin health, metabolism, appetite, and more. 

Zinc is essential for DNA synthesis and cell proliferation, or the ability of our cells to divide and replicate themselves. That means we need it for normal growth, development, and maintenance of our body’s living tissues, like skin, hair, cartilage, and bone. We also need it for a healthy immune system, since immune cells must be able to proliferate rapidly in order to mount a strong defense. Men need zinc for fertility,[16]  and women need more during pregnancy.

The most common reason that people take zinc supplements is to help support their immune health, especially during cold and flu season. On most days, we can meet our everyday zinc requirements by eating protein-rich foods or taking a daily multivitamin. But while serious zinc deficiency is rare in the U.S., research shows that many of us get less zinc than we should, particularly older adults.[1]

Low levels of zinc can weaken the immune system, delay children’s growth and development, and impact male sexual health.[2] Hair loss, acne, and loss of taste and smell can also be signs of low zinc.[3] Here are the top reasons to make sure you get enough zinc at every stage of life.

Why Kids Need Zinc

Growth: Childhood is a period of rapid growth, and zinc plays a vital role in helping to build new tissues, including the skeletal structure. During growth spurts, children are at higher risk of zinc deficiency, and lack of zinc can slow their physical growth. A review of 33 studies found that increasing zinc intake has a significant positive effect on children’s height and weight.[4]

Wound Healing: Scrapes and skinned knees are part of being a kid. One of zinc’s jobs is to help heal minor skin wounds. Not only does zinc help support a healthy immune response to resist infection,[5] it also promotes collagen production and tissue growth to help repair and maintain healthy skin.[6]

Immune Support: Kids' still-developing immune systems make them more vulnerable to catching common bugs. Zinc has a strong record for managing common cold symptoms,[7] not just for adults, but for kids, too.[8] Combining zinc with vitamin C also appears to be effective for children.[9]

The recommended daily zinc intake for kids is:[2]

  • Birth to 6 months: 2 mg
  • Infants 7–12 months: 3 mg
  • Children 1–3 years: 3 mg
  • Children 4–8 years: 5 mg
  • Children 9–13 years: 8 mg

Zinc is found in protein-rich foods like meat, dairy products, beans, nuts, and some whole grains, like quinoa. Kids can also get some extra zinc from a daily multivitamin, like our Chewable Multivitamin for Children or Vitamin Gummies for Kids.

Why Teens Need Zinc

Growth and Development: Teens need adequate zinc to help fuel both their rapid physical growth and their sexual and cognitive development. Lack of zinc can have negative effects on growth and development and even delay sexual maturity.[10]

Teen Acne: Zinc is known for its skin health and healing benefits, so it’s no surprise that lack of zinc has been linked with acne.[11] Zinc supports healthy skin cell regeneration, helps the body resist bacteria, and even helps regulate oily gland activity, making it very helpful in reducing teen acne breakouts.[12][13]

Nutritional needs are higher during the teenage years than at any other life stage (aside from pregnancy),[14] and the demands of growth and development, combined with teens’ often sketchy eating habits, put them at higher risk of zinc deficiency.[10] The recommended daily zinc intake for teens is 11 mg for guys and 9 mg for girls.[2]

While teens should be encouraged to eat a balanced diet, it’s also a good idea for them to take a daily multivitamin, such as our Whole Food Multivitamin for Teens, to help cover gaps in their nutrition and support their growing and changing bodies.

Why Adults Need Zinc

Reproductive Health: Zinc has a significant influence on testosterone production and male reproductive health. Low zinc levels are linked with low testosterone, poor sperm quality, and male fertility issues.[15][16][17] Zinc needs also increase for women during pregnancy, and lack of zinc has been linked with pregnancy complications.[18]

Immune Support: Your body needs zinc in order to activate T-cells, white blood cells that help neutralize bacteria and viruses. Even a mild zinc deficiency weakens your immune response and can leave you more vulnerable to illness.[19] Zinc supplements have been shown to help manage cold and flu symptoms, especially when taken in the first 24 hours.[20][21]

The daily recommended zinc intake for adults is 11 mg for men and 8 mg for women.[2] The best food sources of zinc are shellfish and red meat, including oysters, crab, lobster, beef, and pork. Chicken, chickpeas, pumpkin seeds, oatmeal, and yogurt are also good sources. You can also boost your zinc intake with a daily multivitamin, such as our Whole Food Multivitamin for Men or Whole Food Multivitamin for Women.

Why Older Adults Need Zinc

Immune Support: Our immune function tends to weaken with age. Interestingly, the characteristics of this age-related decline in immunity are very similar to those of zinc deficiency, suggesting that low zinc status may be an important factor.[22] Studies suggest that low zinc is common in older adults.[23] Low zinc status has been linked with a higher rates of pneumonia and antibiotic prescriptions for adults in nursing homes. Zinc supplements have been shown to improve immune function and significantly reduce the rate of infections in the elderly.[22] [24] [25] 

Eye Health: Zinc is highly concentrated in the macula of the eye, where it plays a role in maintaining visual function.[26] The AREDS studies conducted by the National Institute of Eye Health found that increased zinc intake, together with other antioxidants, can help slow the progression of Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD), a common decline in vision that comes with age.[2] Zinc also helps the body use vitamin A, which is important for healthy vision and helps the eye adapt to the dark. Lack of zinc has been linked with symptoms of night-blindness.[27] [28]

The official recommendations for everyday zinc intake are the same for adults of all ages: 11 mg for men and 8 mg for women. However, research suggests that older adults may have more trouble maintaining healthy zinc status,[29]  and may benefit more from a daily supplement.

Our Whole Food Multivitamin for Women 50+ and for Whole Food Multivitamin for Men 50+ can help older adults get the daily zinc they need. For an extra immune boost, we also offer a Vegan Zinc supplement with 35 mg zinc per serving. In addition, our Eye Health supplement, which is inspired by the AREDS studies, includes a higher dose of zinc, together with other antioxidants like vitamins C and E, to help support healthy vision as you age.

References:

[1] Pisano M, Hilas O. Zinc and Taste Disturbances in Older Adults: A Review of the Literature. Consult Pharm. 2016 May;31(5):267-70. doi: 10.4140/TCP.n.2016.267. PMID: 27178656.

[2] “Zinc.” National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements.

[3] Hrustic, Alisa. “8 Signs You’re Not Getting Enough Zinc.” Prevention, May 2017.

[4] Mathis, Charlotte E. Grayson. “Zinc Helps Kids Grow.” WebMD, May 2002.

[5] Wessels I, Maywald M, Rink L. Zinc as a Gatekeeper of Immune Function. Nutrients. 2017;9(12):1286. doi:10.3390/nu9121286

[6] Lin, Pei-Hui et al. “Zinc in Wound Healing Modulation.” Nutrients vol. 10,1 16. 24 Dec. 2017, doi:10.3390/nu10010016

[7]  “Zinc.” Micronutrient Information Center, Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University.

[8] Kurugöl Z, Akilli M, Bayram N, Koturoglu G. The prophylactic and therapeutic effectiveness of zinc sulphate on common cold in children. Acta Paediatr. 2006 Oct;95(10):1175-81. doi: 10.1080/08035250600603024. PMID: 16982486.

[9] Wintergerst ES, Maggini S, Hornig DH. Immune-enhancing role of vitamin C and zinc and effect on clinical conditions. Ann Nutr Metab. 2006;50(2):85-94. doi: 10.1159/000090495. Epub 2005 Dec 21. PMID: 16373990.

[10] Drake, Victoria J. “Micronutrient Requirements for Adolescents Ages 14-18.” Linus Pauling Institute, July 2012.

[11] Rostami Mogaddam, Majid et al. “Correlation between the severity and type of acne lesions with serum zinc levels in patients with acne vulgaris.” BioMed research international vol. 2014 (2014): 474108. doi:10.1155/2014/474108

[12] Sardana, K, Garg, V. “An observational study of methionine‐bound zinc with antioxidants for mild to moderate acne vulgaris.” Dermatologic Therapy, July 2010.

[13] Brandt, Staci, PA-C MSMR MBA. “The Clinical Effects of Zinc as a Topical or Oral Agent on the Clinical Response and Pathophysiologic Mechanisms of Acne: A Systematic Review of the Literature.” Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, Vol. 12 Issue 5, May 2013.

[14] Marino DD, King JC. Nutritional concerns during adolescence. Pediatr Clin North Am. 1980 Feb;27(1):125-39. doi: 10.1016/s0031-3955(16)33824-x. PMID: 6445537.

[15] Prasad AS, Mantzoros CS, Beck FW, Hess JW, Brewer GJ. Zinc status and serum testosterone levels of healthy adults. Nutrition. 1996 May;12(5):344-8. doi: 10.1016/s0899-9007(96)80058-x. PMID: 8875519.

[16] Fallah, Ali et al. “Zinc is an Essential Element for Male Fertility: A Review of Zn Roles in Men's Health, Germination, Sperm Quality, and Fertilization.” Journal of reproduction & infertility vol. 19,2 (2018): 69-81.

[17] Zhao J, Dong X, Hu X, et al. Zinc levels in seminal plasma and their correlation with male infertility: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Sci Rep. 2016;6:22386. Published 2016 Mar 2. doi:10.1038/srep22386

[18] Favier AE. The role of zinc in reproduction. Hormonal mechanisms. Biol Trace Elem Res. 1992 Jan-Mar;32:363-82. doi: 10.1007/BF02784623. PMID: 1375078.

[19] Wessels I, Maywald M, Rink L. Zinc as a Gatekeeper of Immune Function. Nutrients. 2017;9(12):1286. doi:10.3390/nu9121286

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

[21] 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. [PubMed abstract]

[22] Furhrman, Joel. “Immunity Benefits of Zinc as We Age.” Verywell Health, July 2020.

[23] Ervin RB, Kennedy-Stephenson J. Mineral intakes of elderly adult supplement and non-supplement users in the third national health and nutrition examination survey. J Nutr. 2002 Nov;132(11):3422-7. doi: 10.1093/jn/132.11.3422. PMID: 12421862.

[24] Junaidah B Barnett, Maria C Dao, Davidson H Hamer, Ruth Kandel, Gary Brandeis, Dayong Wu, Gerard E Dallal, Paul F Jacques, Robert Schreiber, Eunhee Kong, Simin N Meydani, Effect of zinc supplementation on serum zinc concentration and T cell proliferation in nursing home elderly: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 103, Issue 3, March 2016, Pages 942–951, https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.115.115188

[25] Prasad, Ananda S. “Zinc is an Antioxidant and Anti-Inflammatory Agent: Its Role in Human Health.” Frontiers in nutrition vol. 1 14. 1 Sep. 2014, doi:10.3389/fnut.2014.00014

[26] Grahn BH, Paterson PG, Gottschall-Pass KT, Zhang Z. Zinc and the eye. J Am Coll Nutr. 2001 Apr;20(2 Suppl):106-18. doi: 10.1080/07315724.2001.10719022. PMID: 11349933.

[27] Ratini, Melinda. “Is Zinc Good for Vision?” WebMD, 2019.

[28]Zinc Benefits.” Nutri-Facts.org

 [29] Miyata S. [Zinc deficiency in the elderly]. Nihon Ronen Igakkai Zasshi. 2007 Nov;44(6):677-89. Japanese. PMID: 18200755.