Zinc: Everything You Need to Know
Zinc is a nutrient that plays many vital roles in your body.
Because your body does not naturally produce zinc, you must obtain it through food or supplements.
This article explains everything you need to know about zinc, including its functions, health benefits, dosage recommendations and potential side effects.
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What Is Zinc?
Zinc is considered an essential nutrient, meaning that your body cannot produce or store it.
For this reason, you must get a constant supply through your diet.
Zinc is required for numerous processes in your body, including (1):
- Gene expression
- Enzymatic reactions
- Immune function
- Protein synthesis
- DNA synthesis
- Wound healing
- Growth and development
Zinc is naturally found in a wide variety of both plant and animal foods.
You can also take zinc supplements or multi-nutrient supplements that provide zinc.
Because of its role in immune function, zinc is likewise added to some nasal sprays, lozenges and other natural cold treatments.
Zinc is an essential mineral that your body does not make on its own. It aids growth, DNA synthesis, immune function and more.
Role in Your Body
Zinc is a vital mineral that your body uses in countless ways.
Zinc is necessary for the activity of over 300 enzymes that aid in metabolism, digestion, nerve function and many other processes (3Trusted Source).
In addition, it’s critical for the development and function of immune cells (4Trusted Source).
What’s more, body growth and development relies on zinc because of its role in cell growth and division (6Trusted Source).
Zinc is also needed for your senses of taste and smell. Because one of the enzymes crucial for proper taste and smell is dependent on this nutrient, a zinc deficiency can reduce your ability to taste or smell (7Trusted Source).
Zinc is essential for cell growth and division, immune function, enzyme reactions, DNA synthesis and protein production.
Top Benefits of Zinc
Health Tip: The Top Benefits of Zinc
Research shows that zinc has numerous health benefits.
Boosts Your Immune System
Zinc helps keep your immune system strong.
Because it is necessary for immune cell function and cell signalling, a deficiency can lead to a weakened immune response.
Zinc supplements stimulate immune cells and reduce oxidative stress.
For example, a review of seven studies demonstrated that 80–92 mg per day of zinc may reduce the length of the common cold by up to 33% (8Trusted Source).
What’s more, zinc supplements significantly reduce the risk of infections and promote immune response in older adults (9Trusted Source).
Accelerates Wound Healing
Zinc is commonly used in hospitals as a treatment for burns, certain ulcers and other skin injuries (10Trusted Source).
Because this mineral plays critical roles in collagen synthesis, immune function and inflammatory response, it is necessary for proper healing.
In fact, your skin holds a relatively high amount — about 5% — of your body’s zinc content (11Trusted Source).
While a zinc deficiency can slow wound healing, supplementing with zinc can speed recovery in people with wounds.
For example, in a 12-week study in 60 people with diabetic foot ulcers, those treated with 200 mg of zinc per day experienced significant reductions in ulcer size compared to a placebo group (12Trusted Source).
May Reduce the Risk of Certain Age-Related Diseases
Zinc may significantly reduce your risk of age-related diseases, such as pneumonia, infection and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
Zinc may relieve oxidative stress and improve immune response by boosting the activity of T-cells and natural killer cells, which help protect your body from infection (13Trusted Source).
Older adults who supplement with zinc experience improved influenza vaccination response, reduced risk of pneumonia and boosted mental performance (14Trusted Source, 15Trusted Source, 16Trusted Source).
In fact, one study determined that 45 mg per day of zinc may decrease infection rates in older adults by nearly 66% (17Trusted Source).
Additionally, in a large study in over 4,200 people, taking daily antioxidant supplements — vitamin E, vitamin C and beta-carotene — plus 80 mg of zinc decreased vision loss and significantly reduced the risk of advanced AMD (18Trusted Source).
May Help Treat Acne
Acne is a common skin disease that is estimated to affect up to 9.4% of the global population (19Trusted Source).
Acne is driven by obstruction of oil-producing glands, bacteria and inflammation (20Trusted Source).
Studies suggest that both topical and oral zinc treatments can effectively treat acne by reducing inflammation, inhibiting the growth of P. acnes bacteria and suppressing oily gland activity (21Trusted Source).
People with acne tend to have lower levels of zinc. Therefore, supplements may help reduce symptoms (22Trusted Source).
Zinc decreases oxidative stress and reduces levels of certain inflammatory proteins in your body (23Trusted Source).
In a study in 40 older adults, those who took 45 mg of zinc per day experienced greater reductions in inflammatory markers than a placebo group (25Trusted Source).
Zinc may effectively reduce inflammation, boost immune health, reduce your risk of age-related diseases, speed wound healing and improve acne symptoms.
Although severe zinc deficiency is rare, it can occur in people with rare genetic mutations, breastfeeding infants whose mothers don’t have enough zinc, people with alcohol addictions and anyone taking certain immune-suppressing medications.
Symptoms of severe zinc deficiency include impaired growth and development, delayed sexual maturity, skin rashes, chronic diarrhoea, impaired wound healing and behavioural issues (26Trusted Source).
Milder forms of zinc deficiency are more common, especially in children in developing countries where diets are often lacking in important nutrients.
It is estimated that around 2 billion people worldwide are deficient in zinc due to inadequate dietary intake (27Trusted Source).
Since zinc deficiency impairs your immune system — increasing the chances of infection — zinc deficiency is thought to cause over 450,000 deaths in children under 5 every year (28Trusted Source).
Those at risk of zinc deficiency include (29Trusted Source):
- People with gastrointestinal diseases like Crohn’s disease
- Vegetarians and vegans
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women
- Older infants who are exclusively breastfed
- People with sickle cell anaemia
- People who are malnourished, including those with anorexia or bulimia
- People with chronic kidney disease
- Those who abuse alcohol
Symptoms of mild zinc deficiency include diarrhoea, decreased immunity, thinning hair, decreased appetite, mood disturbances, dry skin, fertility issues and impaired wound healing (30Trusted Source).
Zinc deficiency is difficult to detect using laboratory tests due to your body’s tight control over zinc levels. Thus, you may still be deficient even if tests indicate normal levels.
Doctors consider other risk factors — such as poor dietary intake and genetics — alongside blood results when determining whether you need supplements (31Trusted Source).
Risk factors for zinc deficiency include insufficient dietary intake, poor absorption, alcoholism, genetic mutations and old age.
Many animal and plant foods are naturally rich in zinc, making it easy for most people to consume adequate amounts.
Foods highest in zinc include (32):
- Shellfish: Oysters, crab, mussels, lobster and clams
- Meat: Beef, pork, lamb and bison
- Poultry: Turkey and chicken
- Fish: Flounder, sardines, salmon and sole
- Legumes: Chickpeas, lentils, black beans, kidney beans, etc.
- Nuts and seeds: Pumpkin seeds, cashews, hemp seeds, etc.
- Dairy products: Milk, yogurt and cheese
- Whole grains: Oats, quinoa, brown rice, etc.
- Certain vegetables: Mushrooms, kale, peas, asparagus and beet greens
Animal products, such as meat and shellfish, contain high amounts of zinc in a form that your body easily absorbs.
While many foods are naturally high in zinc, certain foods — such as ready-to-eat breakfast cereals, snack bars and baking flours — are fortified with zinc (34Trusted Source).
Zinc occurs naturally in foods like shellfish, meat, poultry and dairy, and is added to other foods, such as breakfast cereals and wheat flour.
Toxicity and Dosage Recommendations
Just as a deficiency in zinc can cause health complications, excessive intake can also lead to negative side effects.
The most common cause of zinc toxicity is too much supplemental zinc, which can cause both acute and chronic symptoms.
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal cramps
- Reduced immune function
- Decreased “good” HDL cholesterol levels
Ingesting too much zinc can also cause deficiencies in other nutrients.
For example, chronic high zinc ingestion can interfere with your absorption of copper and iron.
Reductions in copper levels have even been reported in people consuming only moderately high doses of zinc — 60 mg per day — for 10 weeks (36Trusted Source).
In order to avoid overconsumption, stay away from high-dose zinc supplements unless recommended by a doctor.
The recommended daily intake (RDI) is 11 mg for adult men and 8 mg for adult women.
Unless a medical condition is hindering absorption, you should easily reach the RDI for zinc through diet alone.
The tolerable upper level for zinc is 40 mg per day. However, this does not apply to people with zinc deficiencies, who may need to take high-dose supplements.
If you take supplements, choose absorbable forms such as zinc citrate or zinc gluconate. Stay away from zinc oxide, which is poorly absorbed (38Trusted Source).
Zinc toxicity may cause diarrhoea, headache, abdominal cramps and reduced immunity. Most people can obtain their daily dose of zinc through diet alone.
The Bottom Line
Zinc is needed for DNA synthesis, immune function, metabolism and growth.
It may reduce inflammation and your risk of some age-related diseases.
Most people meet the RDI of 11 mg for men and 8 mg for women through diet, but older adults and people with diseases that inhibit zinc absorption may need to supplement.
Because high-dose zinc supplements can lead to dangerous side effects, it is important to stick to recommendations and only take supplements when necessary.
Why is ginger good for you?
People have used ginger in cooking and medicine since ancient times. It is a popular home remedy for nausea, stomach pain, and other health issues.
People typically use fresh or dried ginger in cooking, and some take ginger supplements for their possible health benefits.
Antioxidants and other nutrients in ginger may help prevent or treat arthritis, inflammation, and various types of infection. Researchers have also studied its potential to reduce the risk of diabetes, cancer, and other health problems.
In this article, learn more about the possible health benefits of ginger and the research behind them.
Ginger may have anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral, and other healthful properties. Below are some of the possible medicinal uses of ginger.
Reducing gas and improving digestion
Share on Pinterest Consuming ginger may help improve digestion.
Several studies have investigated ginger’s effects on the gasses that form in the intestinal tract during digestion.
Some research indicates that enzymes in ginger can help the body break up and expel this gas, providing relief from any discomfort.
Ginger also appears to have beneficial effects on the enzyme’s trypsin and pancreatic lipase, which are important for digestion.
In addition, ginger may help increase movement through the digestive tract, suggesting that it may relieve or prevent constipation.
Which other foods may help with digestion? Find out here.
Some research indicates that ginger can help alleviate morning sickness and relieve nausea following cancer treatment.
One small study from 2010 examined the effects of ginger root powder supplements on nausea in 60 children and young adults who underwent chemotherapy. The analysis showed that the supplement led to reduced nausea in most of the people who took it.
Authors of a 2011 review of studies arrived at similar conclusions. They reported that taking a divided daily dosage of 1,500 milligrams (mg) of ginger extract helped alleviate symptoms of nausea.
They also called for further studies in humans to fully understand the effects of ginger on nausea and other gastrointestinal issues.
Easing a cold or the flu
Many people use ginger to help recover from a cold or the flu. However, the evidence supporting this remedy is mostly anecdotal.
In 2013, researchers studied the effects of fresh and dried ginger on one respiratory virus in human cells.
The results indicated that fresh ginger may help protect the respiratory system, while dried ginger did not have the same impact.
Also in 2013, a small study set out to investigate the popularity of herbal medicine as a cold or flu treatment.
After polling 300 pharmacy customers in two different locations, the researchers determined that 69% of those polled used herbal medicine and that most of this group found it effective.
However, while ginger was among the most popular ingredients in these remedies, some of the participants may not have used it.
Which foods and drinks can help ease a sore throat? Find out here.
Researchers behind a small study, which included 74 volunteers, found that a daily dosage of 2 grams (g) of raw or heated ginger reduced exercise-induced muscle pain by about 25%.
Meanwhile, a 2016 review of studies concluded that ginger may help reduce dysmenorrhea — pain right before or during menstruation. However, the authors acknowledge that the included studies were often small or of poor quality.
Can any foods affect pain from gout? Learn more here.
One group of researchers concluded that taking ginger by mouth is “modestly efficacious and reasonably safe” for treating inflammation caused by osteoarthritis.
However, they noted that the studies included in their meta-analysis were small and may not represent the general population.
Meanwhile, a 2017 review of 16 clinical trials determined that the phytochemical properties in ginger may combat inflammation. These authors also called for further research into the most effective dosages and types of ginger extract.
Supporting cardiovascular health
There is some evidence that ginger extract may help with cardiovascular disease.
For example, one review found that a dosage of 5 g or more can cause significant, beneficial antiplatelet activity.
The authors acknowledge that many investigations included in their analysis did not involve human participants or that participant numbers were too small to ensure reliable results.
However, they suggest that, with further research, ginger could prove to be a safe form of treatment for cardiovascular disease.
Meanwhile, one small study found that ginger extract helped reduce the occurrence of heart abnormalities among rats with diabetes. The authors noted that this reduction may stem, in part, from the antioxidant properties of the extract.
Lowering cancer risk
Oxidative stress happens when too many free radicals build up in the body. Free radicals are toxic substances produced by metabolism and other factors.
The body needs to eliminate free radicals to prevent them from causing cellular damage that can lead to a range of diseases, including cancer. Dietary antioxidants help the body get rid of free radicals.
Biopsies showed that the participants who had consumed the ginger had fewer negative changes in healthy colon tissue. This group also had reduced cellular proliferation. The findings indicate that ginger could play a role in preventing colorectal cancer.
Which other foods provide antioxidants? Find out here.
Echinacea: Benefits, Uses, Side Effects and Dosage
Echinacea, also called purple coneflower, is one of the most popular herbs worldwide.
Native Americans have used it for centuries to treat various ailments.
Today, it is best known as an over-the-counter herbal remedy for the common cold or flu. However, it is also used to treat pain, inflammation, migraines and other health issues.
This article reviews the benefits, uses, side effects and dosage of echinacea.
What Is Echinacea
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Echinacea is the name of a group of flowering plants in the daisy family.
They are native to North America where they grow in prairies and open, wooded areas.
Altogether, this group has nine species, but only three are used in herbal supplements — Echinacea purpurea, Echinacea angustifolia and Echinacea pallida (1Trusted Source).
Both the plant’s upper parts and roots are used in tablets, tinctures, extracts and teas.
Echinacea plants contain an impressive variety of active compounds, such as caffeic acid, alkamides, phenolic acids, rosmarinic acid, polyacetylenes and many more (2).
In addition, studies have linked echinacea and their compounds to many health benefits, such as reduced inflammation, improved immunity and lower blood sugar levels.
Echinacea is a group of flowering plants used as a popular herbal remedy. They are linked to many health benefits, such as reduced inflammation, improved immunity and lower blood sugar levels.
High in Antioxidants
Echinacea plants are loaded with plant compounds that function as antioxidants.
Antioxidants are molecules that help defend your cells against oxidative stress, a state that has been linked to chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease and many others.
Some of these antioxidants are flavonoids, cichoric acid and rosmarinic acid (3Trusted Source).
In addition, echinacea plants contain compounds called alkamides, which can further enhance antioxidant activity. Alkamides can renew worn-out antioxidants and help antioxidants better reach molecules that are prone to oxidative stress (7).
Echinacea is loaded with antioxidants, such as flavonoids, cichoric acid and rosmarinic acid, which may help defend your body against oxidative stress.
May Offer Several Health Benefits
Research on echinacea suggests that it offers several impressive health benefits.
Positive Effect on the Immune System
Echinacea is best known for its beneficial effects on the immune system.
Numerous studies have found that this plant may help your immune system combat infections and viruses, which could help you recover faster from illness (8Trusted Source, 9Trusted Source, 10Trusted Source).
That has one reason why echinacea is often used to prevent or treat the common cold.
In fact, a review of 14 studies found that taking echinacea may lower the risk of developing colds by more than 50% and shorten the duration of colds by one and a half days (11Trusted Source).
However, many studies on this topic are poorly designed and show no real benefit. This makes it hard to know if any benefits on colds are from taking echinacea or simply from chance (12Trusted Source).
In short, while echinacea may boost immunity, its effects on the common cold are unclear.
May Lower Blood Sugar Levels
High blood sugar can raise your risk of serious health problems.
This includes type 2 diabetes, heart disease and several other chronic conditions.
Test-tube studies have found that echinacea plants may help lower blood sugar levels.
In a test-tube study, an Echinacea purpurea extract was shown to suppress enzymes that digest carbohydrates. This would reduce the amount of sugar entering your blood if consumed (13Trusted Source).
This receptor works by removing excess fat in the blood, which is a risk factor for insulin resistance. This makes it easier for cells to respond to insulin and sugar (16Trusted Source).
Still, human-based research on the effects of echinacea on blood sugar is lacking.
May Reduce Feelings of Anxiety
Anxiety is a common problem that affects close to one in five American adults (17).
In recent years, echinacea plants have emerged as a potential aid for anxiety.
Research has discovered that echinacea plants contain compounds that may reduce feelings of anxiety. These include alkamides, rosmarinic acid and caffeic acid (18Trusted Source).
In one mouse study, three out of five echinacea samples helped reduce anxiety. In addition, they did not make the mice less active, in contrast to higher doses of standard treatments (18Trusted Source).
Another study found that Echinacea angustifolia extract rapidly reduced feelings of anxiety in both mice and humans (19Trusted Source).
However, as of now, only a handful of studies on echinacea and anxiety exist. More research is needed before echinacea products can be recommended as a possible treatment.
Inflammation is your body’s natural way of promoting healing and defending itself.
Sometimes inflammation can get out of hand and last for longer than necessary and expected. This may raise your risk of chronic diseases and other health problems.
Several studies have shown that echinacea can help reduce excess inflammation.
In a mouse study, echinacea compounds helped reduce important inflammatory markers and memory-loss caused by inflammation (20Trusted Source).
In another 30-day study, adults with osteoarthritis found that taking a supplement containing echinacea extract significantly reduced inflammation, chronic pain and swelling.
Interestingly, these adults did not respond well to conventional non-steroidal inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) but found the supplement containing echinacea extract helpful (21Trusted Source).
May Help Treat Skin Concerns
Research has shown that echinacea plants may help treat common skin concerns.
In another study in 10 healthy people aged 25–40, skin care products containing echinacea extract were found to improve skin hydration and reduce wrinkles (23Trusted Source).
Similarly, a cream containing Echinacea purpurea extract was shown to improve eczema symptoms and help repair the skin’s thin, protective outer layer (24Trusted Source).
However, echinacea extract appears to have a short shelf life, making it difficult to incorporate into commercial skin care products.
May Offer Protection Against Cancer
Cancer is a disease that involves the uncontrolled growth of cells.
In one test-tube study, an extract of Echinacea purpurea and chicoric acid (naturally found in echinacea plants) was shown to trigger cancer cell death (25Trusted Source).
In another test-tube study, extracts from echinacea plants (Echinacea purpurea, Echinacea angustifolia and Echinacea pallida) killed human cancer cells from the pancreas and colon by stimulating a process called apoptosis or controlled cell death.
It’s believed that this effect occurs due to echinacea’s immune-boosting properties.
That being said, human studies are needed before making any recommendations.
Echinacea has been shown to improve immunity, blood sugar, anxiety, inflammation and skin health. It may even have anti-cancer properties. However, human-based research on these benefits is often limited.
Potential Side Effects
Echinacea products appear to be safe and well-tolerated for short-term use.
There have been cases where people experienced side effects, such as (3Trusted Source):
- Itchy skin
- Stomach pain
- Shortness of breath
As echinacea appears to stimulate the immune system, people with autoimmune disorders or people taking immunosuppressive drugs should avoid it or consult their doctors first.
While it appears to be safe for short-term use, its long-term effects are still relatively unknown.
Echinacea appears to be safe and well tolerated in the short term, but its long-term effects are relatively unknown.
There is currently no official dosage recommendation for echinacea.
One reason being that findings from echinacea research are highly variable.
In addition, echinacea products often may not contain what is written on the label. One study found that 10% of echinacea products samples did not contain any echinacea.
Therefore, you should purchase echinacea products from trusted brands.
That said, research has found the following doses to be effective in aiding immunity
- Dry powdered extract: 300–500 mg of Echinacea purpurea, three times daily.
However, it is best to follow the instructions that come with your specific supplement.
Keep in mind that these recommendations are for short-term use, as echinacea’s long-term effects on the body are still relatively unknown.
Echinacea products are highly variable, which makes it hard to set a standard recommended dosage. The dosages vary with the form of echinacea you are using.
The Bottom Line
Echinacea has been shown to improve immunity, blood sugar, anxiety, inflammation and skin health. It may even have anti-cancer properties. However, human-based research is often limited.
It is considered safe and well tolerated for short-term use.
Suggested dosages vary depending on the form of echinacea you are using.
Although it is commonly used to treat the common cold, results in this area are mixed. While research has shown it may help prevent colds, shorten their duration or provide symptomatic relief, many studies have been poorly designed or shown no real benefit.
That said, there are not many products like echinacea with similar potential immune-boosting effects, so it might be worth trying it out.