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Zinc Supplements: What to Know if You're Thinking of Taking Them

What is Zinc?

- Zinc is an essential trace mineral that is important in maintaining cellular metabolism and gene expression. It is fundamental to the activity of the immune function; tissue growth, repair and wound healing; insulin signaling; vision and nerve function.

What are its uses?

- During pregnancy, infancy and childhood, the body needs zinc for proper growth and development. Zinc is also more commonly used to improve white blood cell function and increase T cell count which in turn enhances immune response to infection. Similarly, zinc greatly influences antiviral activity against herpes simplex viruses and the common cold.

What is Zinc sourced from and what is the suggested dose range?

- Zinc is sourced from food items such as oysters, shellfish and red meat. The recommended supplemental dose range for men is 30-60 mg/day and for women, 30-45 mg/day of elemental zinc. Note that different forms of zinc supplements contain different amounts of active (elemental) zinc, therefore it is recommended to evaluate zinc dosage using the elemental dose.

What are symptoms of Zinc deficiency?

- Zinc is second only to iron in worldwide deficiency, though deficiency in US population is believed to be low. Symptoms of deficiency include poor appetite, growth retardation, impaired immune function, hair loss, impotence and eye/skin lesions.

What are symptoms of Zinc excess?

- Intake of >150 mg/day can depress immune function, reduce HDL cholesterol, lead to copper-deficient anemia and cause nausea, stomach upset or diarrhea.

When might you need to use Zinc supplementation?

- If you are a pregnant/lactating woman, have a vegetarian diet or have alcohol use disorder, sickle cell or GI disease you are more prone to zinc deficiency and should look into supplementation. Also, if you are looking to prevent viral infections or if you are treating poor wound healing, zinc may be helpful.

Do’s and Don’ts for use of Zinc:

- Zinc should be taken apart from high fiber foods for best absorption so separate administration from food by at least 1 hour before or 2-3 hours after meals. Also, avoid taking at the same time as some antibiotics.

What to be aware of when searching for an effective zinc product?

- The amino acid chelated form of zinc (e.g. zinc glycinate) offers enhanced absorption, optimal utilization and gastrointestinal comfort. It is important to supplement using the right form of zinc to maintain healthy levels within the body and compliance to a regiment. Pay attention to the elemental zinc content on a bottle and when in doubt, ask a professional.

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