Written by Dr. Savannah Muncy, Pharm.D on
July 29, 2021
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Medically Reviewed by our Medical Affairs Team

Written by Dr. Savannah Muncy, Pharm.D on:

What is Zinc?

Zinc, especially zinc picolinate, is an important mineral involved in many functions of the body.1,2

Our bodies do not make1 or store zinc naturally,1,2 so we must consume it through our diet1,2 or by taking supplements.1

Before taking any zinc supplements, consult with your doctor or your child’s doctor about how much zinc is right for you or your child and the best way you or your child should obtain it.

Foods that Contain Zinc

Eating a balanced diet that includes foods rich in zinc can help you reach your zinc needs. Some of the foods that are highest in zinc include1,2:

Meat

Red meat like beef, lamb, and pork contain ample amounts of zinc.1,2 However, eating a lot of red meat may increase the risk of heart disease and certain cancers.2

Shellfish 

Shellfish like crab, mussels, oysters, and shrimp can provide your daily zinc recommendations.1,2

Legumes 

Chickpeas, beans, and lentils are all legumes that contain adequate amounts of zinc.1,2

Seeds 

Pumpkin seeds,  sesame seeds, and squash seeds are an excellent source of zinc.1,2

Nuts

Cashews, almonds, peanuts, and pine nuts can boost your zinc levels1,2 while providing healthy fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.2

Dairy Products 

Dairy products are excellent sources of zinc.1,2 Cheese and milk1,2 are two notable dairy products because they contain substantial amounts of bioavailable zinc.2 This means that most of the zinc in these foods can be absorbed by the body.2

Eggs

Eggs contain zinc and can help you meet your recommended daily amount.1,2

Whole Grains

Whole grains such as oats, quinoa, rice, and wheat contain zinc,1,2 but “may not be absorbed as well as other sources due to the presence of phytates.”2 Phytates “bind to zinc and reduce its absorption.”2

Some Vegetables 

Vegetables like regular and sweet potatoes, kale, and green beans contain zinc that can help you meet your daily target.1,2 

Dark Chocolate 

When we think of chocolate, we think mostly of sugar and calories. Although dark chocolate contains zinc, it’s not a food that you should eat to get most of your zinc.2

Types of Zinc Supplements

You can obtain your daily recommended amounts of zinc by taking zinc supplements. Zinc supplements can usually be found over the counter at your local grocery store or pharmacy.

You can also explore the different zinc supplements available online. There are so many to choose from that can “impact health in distinct ways.”3

So, before taking any zinc supplements, consult with your doctor or your child’s doctor about how much zinc is right for you or your child and which supplement may be the best option.

Here are a few different zinc supplements you may find available on the market:

  • Zinc acetate: Zinc acetate may help speed up the recovery from common colds.3,4 A meta-analysis showed that patients who were given zinc acetate lozenges for colds recovered faster.4
  • Zinc citrate: One study showed that zinc citrate absorbs as well as zinc gluconate3,5 and has a better taste.3
  • Zinc gluconate: Zinc gluconate is one of the most common forms of zinc that can be found over the counter.3 
  • Zinc orotate: Zinc orotate binds to orotic acid.3 It is also one of the most common forms of zinc supplements3 that can be found over the counter.
  • Zinc picolinate: Some research suggests “that zinc absorption in humans can be improved by complexing zinc with picolinic acid.”
  • Zinc sulfate: Zinc sulfate can help prevent zinc deficiency. Research has also shown that zinc sulfate may be effective in the treatment of severe acne.3,7

Potential Benefits of Zinc

Zinc is important for many functions of the body1,2 and is associated with many health benefits.

Zinc may improve the immune system,1,3 accelerate wound healing,1 reduce the risk of certain age-related diseases,1 help treat acne,1,3 decrease inflammation,1 promote blood glucose control,3 improve heart health,3 and slow down macular degeneration.3

Zinc Deficiency

Zinc deficiency is rare, but people with certain conditions such as genetic mutations, people who are addicted to alcohol, breastfeeding infants whose mothers are deficient, and people who take certain immunosuppressant medications may experience low levels of zinc.

About 2 billion people all around the world have a zinc deficiency due to an insufficient dietary consumption.1 Inadequate dietary intake, alcohol addiction, poor absorption, genetic mutations, and old age can all contribute to zinc deficiencies.1

A person who has a mild zinc deficiency may experience symptoms such as decreased appetite, decreased immunity, diarrhea, dry skin, fertility issues, mood disturbances, thinning hair, and impaired wound healing.1

A person who has a severe deficiency in zinc may experience symptoms such as impaired growth and development, delayed sexual maturity, behavioral issues, chronic diarrhea, impaired wound healing, and skin rashes.1

It is hard to detect a zinc deficiency via laboratory tests.1 Doctors consider poor diet and genetics along with blood test results to determine if zinc supplements are needed.1

Zinc and Brain Health

Zinc is important for the production of several neurotransmitters in the brain, including dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin.8 Zinc also promotes GABA, a neurotransmitter important for inhibition and relaxation.

Since our bodies do not naturally make1 or store zinc1,2, it is important that we consume it through our diet1,2 or take zinc supplements1 to maintain optimal levels. 

Zinc Deficiency and ADHD

A 2010 study  suggests that low levels of zinc “might be associated with more significant impairment in dopaminergic transmission in [patients] with ADHD.”9

Results showed that low levels of zinc were associated with increased symptoms of hyperactivity, anxiety, and conduct problems.9

 “Taking zinc supplements may reduce hyperactivity and impulsivity, but not inattentiveness.”10 Before you or your child take any zinc supplements, consult with your doctor or your child’s doctor first. Taking too much zinc can be dangerous.10

What Else Does the Research Say?

A 2009 study suggested that “in ADHD children with zinc deficiency or low plasma zinc concentration, zinc dietary supplementation or during therapy for ADHD may be of great benefit.

A study of ADHD treatment with zinc sulfate as a supplement to methylphenidate showed beneficial effects of zinc supplementation in the treatment of children with ADHD.”11

In a study in 2011, “an apparent improvement in ADHD signs in children was observed with [zinc] supplementation.”12

According to a 2013 systematic review of randomized, controlled clinical trials examining the effect of zinc on ADHD, “the only trial that was well controlled and randomized according to the baseline zinc level showed that using zinc, either alone or in combination with stimulants, did not improve ADHD.

Considering the lack of clear evidence for the effect of zinc on ADHD and the possible effect of zinc on the nervous system, more clinical studies are needed to prove or disprove the effect of zinc as a monotherapy or adjuvant therapy.”13

The Bottom Line

Research has shown that zinc may improve some symptoms of ADHD. However, some research also suggests that more clinical studies are needed.

Zinc is an essential mineral for many functions of the body.1,2 We must obtain it through our diet1,2 or take supplements1 to achieve the optimal amount needed.

Too much zinc can be dangerous.10 Consult with your doctor or your child’s doctor about how much zinc is right for you or your child and the best way you or your child should obtain it.

References:

  1. Kubala, J. Zinc: Everything You Need to Know. healthline. Written November 14, 2018. Accessed July 22, 2021. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/zinc
  2. West H. The 10 Best Foods That Are High in Zinc. healthline. Written April 19, 2018. Accessed July 22, 2021. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/best-foods-high-in-zinc. 
  3. Link R. What Are Zinc Supplements Good For? Benefits and More. healthline. Written January 10, 2019. Accessed July 22, 2021. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/zinc-supplements.
  4. Hemilä H, Fitzgerald JT, Petrus EJ, Prasad A. Zinc Acetate Lozenges May Improve the Recovery Rate of Common Cold Patients: An Individual Patient Data Meta-Analysis. Open Forum Infect Dis. 2017;4(2):ofx059. Published 2017 Apr 3.
  5. Wegmüller R, Tay F, Zeder C, Brnic M, Hurrell RF. Zinc absorption by young adults from supplemental zinc citrate is comparable with that from zinc gluconate and higher than from zinc oxide. J Nutr. 2014;144(2):132-136.
  6. Barrie SA, Wright JV, Pizzorno JE, Kutter E, Barron PC. Comparative absorption of zinc picolinate, zinc citrate and zinc gluconate in humans. Agents Actions. 1987;21(1-2):223-228.
  7. Gupta M, Mahajan VK, Mehta KS, Chauhan PS. Zinc therapy in dermatology: a review. Dermatol Res Pract. 2014;2014:709152.
  8. Greenblatt J. Finally Focused: Mineral Imbalances & ADHD (Part 1: Zinc Deficiency & Copper Excess). The ZRT Laboratory Blog. Published May 9, 2017. Accessed July 22, 2021. https://www.zrtlab.com/blog/archive/mineral-imbalance-adhd-zinc-copper/. 
  9. Oner O, Oner P, Bozkurt OH, et al. Effects of zinc and ferritin levels on parent and teacher reported symptom scores in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Child Psychiatry Hum Dev. 2010;41(4):441-447.
  10. 6 Essential, Natural Supplements for ADHD. ADDITUDE. Accessed July 22, 2021. https://www.additudemag.com/slideshows/adhd-supplements-fish-oil-zinc-iron/#footnote6.
  11. Dodig-Curković K, Dovhanj J, Curković M, Dodig-Radić J, Degmecić D. Uloga cinka u lijecenju hiperaktivnog poremećaja u djece [The role of zinc in the treatment of hyperactivity disorder in children]. Acta Med Croatica. 2009;63(4):307-313.
  12. Zamora J, Velásquez A, Troncoso L, Barra P, Guajardo K, Castillo-Duran C. Zinc en la terapia del sindrome de déficit de atención e hiperactividad en niños. Un estudio controlado aleatorio preliminar [Zinc in the therapy of the attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in children. A preliminar randomized controlled trial]. Arch Latinoam Nutr. 2011;61(3):242-246.
  13. Ghanizadeh A, Berk M. Zinc for treating of children and adolescents with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder: a systematic review of randomized controlled clinical trials. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2013;67(1):122-124.

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