Zinc is an important element that is found in every cell in the body. More than 300 enzymes in the body need zinc in order to function properly. Although the amount of zinc we need in our daily diet is tiny, it's very important that we get it. However, the evidence suggests that many of us do not get enough. Mild zinc deficiency seems to be fairly common, and for this reason taking a zinc supplement at nutritional doses may be a good idea.

However, taking too much zinc isn’t a good idea—it can cause toxicity. In this article, we discuss the possible uses of zinc at various doses.

Requirements

The official US recommendations for daily intake of zinc are as follows:

  • Infants
    • 0-6 months: 2 mg
    • 7-12 months: 3 mg
  • Children
    • 1-3 years: 3 mg
    • 4-8 years: 5 mg
  • Males
    • 9-13 years: 8 mg
    • 14 years and older: 11 mg
  • Females
    • 9-13 years: 8 mg
    • 14-18 years: 9 mg
    • 19 years and older: 8 mg
  • Pregnant Women
    • 18 years and younger: 13 mg
    • 19 years and older: 11 mg
  • Nursing Women
    • 18 years and younger: 14 mg
    • 19 years and older: 12 mg
Sources

Oysters have a very high zinc content—a 3-ounce serving of cooked oysters has about 74 milligrams of zinc. Besides oysters, other types of shellfish, along with meat and chicken are high in zinc. In the table below, the National Institutes of Health's Office of Dietary Supplements offers an extensive list of foods that are high in zinc:207

Food Serving size Zinc content
(milligrams [mg])
% Daily Value
Oysters, cooked 3 ounces 74 493
Beef chuck roast, braised 3 ounces 7 47
Alaska king crab, cooked 3 ounces 6.5 43
Beef patty, broiled 3 ounces 5.3 35
25% fortified breakfast cereal ¾ cup 3.8 25
Lobster, cooked 3 ounces 3.4 23
Pork chop, cooked 3 ounces 2.9 19
Baked beans, canned ½ cup 2.9 19
Chicken (dark meat), cooked 3 ounces 2.4 16
Fruit yogurt, low-fat 8 ounces 1.7 11
Cashews, dry roasted 1 ounce 1.6 11
Chickpeas, cooked ½ cup 1.3 9
Swiss cheese 1 ounce 1.2 8
Instant oatmeal 1 serving 1.1 7
Milk, low-fat or non-fat 1 cup 1.0 7
Almonds, dry roasted `1 ounce 0.9 6
Kidney beans, cooked ½ cup 0.9 6
Chicken breast, roasted ½ breast 0.9 6
Cheddar or mozzarella cheese 1 ounce 0.9 6
Green peas, cooked ½ cup 0.5 3

Zinc can also be taken as a nutritional supplement, in one of many forms. Zinc citrate, zinc acetate, or zinc picolinate may be the best absorbed, although zinc sulfate is less expensive. When you purchase a supplement, you should be aware of the difference between the milligrams of actual zinc that the product contains (so-called elemental zinc) and the total milligrams of the zinc product, which includes the weight of the sulfate, picolinate, and so forth. All dosages given in this article refer to elemental zinc (unless otherwise stated).

Zinc Deficiency

The average diet in the developed world may provide insufficient zinc, especially in women, adolescents, infants, and the elderly.1-5,163 Thus, it may be a wise idea to increase your intake of zinc on general principles.

Zinc Absorption

Various drugs may tend to reduce levels zinc in the body by inhibiting its absorption or increasing its excretion. These include captopril and possibly other ACE inhibitors, oral contraceptives, thiazide diuretics,6-12,31,32 and drugs which reduce stomach acid (including H2blockers and proton pump inhibitors). Certain nutrients may also inhibit zinc absorption, including calcium, soy, manganese, copper, and iron.13-29 Contrary to previous reports, folateis not likely to have this effect.30