The Zinc Link to Your Immunity: 5 Answers

Katie Taibl, RN
Katie Taibl, RN
10 minute read
November 18, 2022
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Can zinc shorten the length of cold?

No one wants to catch a cold and play the "is this actually COVID" guessing game. However, taking a zinc lozenge or syrup within 24 hours of symptoms reduces the length and severity of a cold.

Zinc also has anti-viral and anti-inflammatory effects. This is one reason zinc protects against respiratory tract infections.

Zinc supplementation significantly reduces the risk of catching a nasty respiratory virus. And adults who did catch a virus were 1.83 times more likely to recover when they took 20mg of zinc daily (compared to those who took a placebo.) 

It may be worse not to take zinc if you wind up sick!

Should I take zinc every day?

Zinc is an essential mineral found in food, added to others, or taken as a supplement. Zinc is critical for cellular metabolism, a bodily process that keeps everything running like a well-oiled machine. Cellular metabolism is also responsible for how your body responds to its environment.

Your taste and smell are also impacted by zinc. But best of all, zinc reduces stress within your body's cells, enhancing your immune system. So make sure to get enough zinc every day, whether through diet or supplementation.

If you’re getting sick frequently, talk with your health care practitioner to decide how much zinc you should take for an invigorated immune system.

What is zinc good for?

Zinc plays a vital role in:

  • Avoiding illness (immunity)
  • Healthy cells (protein and DNA synthesis)
  • Healthier skin (wound healing)
  • Improved energy (stabilized blood sugar)

Besides reducing the severity of respiratory illness, zinc also prevents diarrhea and improves cognitive function. In addition, zinc in higher doses lowers the risk of stomach cancer, mitigates depression, and is helpful in diabetes management.

How does zinc help the immune system?

Your body craves zinc for innate immunity. NK cells and neutrophils, two kinds of white blood cells critical for immunity, rely on zinc for optimal functioning. Neutrophils are your body's first line of defense against illness! NK ("natural killer") cells eradicate tumors and viruses

Studies show that zinc stabilizes blood sugar. Furthermore, stable blood sugar relates to immune function, as elevated blood sugar levels trigger inflammation. These findings are based on experiments with mice, which showed that sugar weakens immune cell proteins.

Zinc helps by reducing cellular stress. When you experience inflammation, your immune response activates, causing free radicals to run amuck. Zinc repairs damaged tissues by increasing the number of circulating antibodies, which defend against toxic free radicals.

How much zinc should I take for immunity?

You can get zinc from food sources and supplementation. It's important to be sufficient in zinc, as a deficiency increases your infection risk.

Foods with zinc

Foods highest in zinc include red meat, seafood, chicken, and fortified cereals. But if you're into slimy seafood, you're in luck because oysters have the most zinc! A serving of oysters has 32mg per 3 ounces–or 291% of your estimated daily zinc value.

Zinc is stored in the bones and muscles. A normal serum level of zinc is 80 to 120 mcg/dL.

A deficient level is 70 mcg/dL in women and 74 mcg/dL in men. 

Zinc supplementation

So, you've bought your fortified cereals and chicken thighs and maybe even splurged on oysters in the name of immunity. Still, you want to supplement with zinc. But how much zinc should you take?

Though there is no "immune dose," the amount of zinc you should take for immunity depends on your current zinc levels and dietary intake guidelines.

The recommended daily amount of zinc is 8 mg for women and 11 mg for adult men. Pregnant people need more zinc, up to 12 mg, because zinc is essential for cell growth and fetal development. The max dose for zinc from all sources is 40 mg daily.

Supplement tips

Avoid taking iron supplements simultaneously when you supplement with zinc, as this inhibits zinc's beneficial effects. However, according to the National Institute of Health, eating foods fortified with iron does not affect zinc absorption.

Zinc gluconate and zinc citrate are two forms of zinc to look for when selecting a supplement. Zinc oxide may be less absorbable.

Supplement your diet with this helpful mineral to combat colds and feel your best, even as winter approaches. Double down on zinc to decrease disease severity and inflammation.

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