Zinc Benefits Immunity, Plus Other Reasons to Take a Zinc Supplement

By: Molly Apel
May 11, 2020

Zinc Benefits Immunity, Plus Other Reasons to Take a Zinc Supplement

  • Zinc is a powerhouse. It plays a role in everything from your immune system and cardiovascular function to hormone production.
  • Although zinc occurs naturally in food, it plays hard-to-get. It’s bound by phytates, blocked by folic acid and competes for absorption with copper.
  • That’s where a zinc supplement comes in. Take it with copper, and make sure to take it at the right time of day. Get the details below.

Do you need a zinc supplement? First, some facts. Zinc is a powerhouse, critical to some of your body’s most important processes. It’s involved in protein and DNA synthesis, cell division and the function of more than 200 enzymes.[1] It’s also essential for your immune system.

Keep reading to learn the ins and outs of this important mineral, how to get zinc from food and what you should look for in a zinc supplement.

What does zinc do?

White pills on blue table

Here are a few of the most important roles zinc plays in your body:

  • Helps keep your immune system strong: Zinc is a “gatekeeper” of your immune function. It’s a key player in the signaling between your body’s immune tolerance and defense systems, which means it flags when it’s time to bring in the tanks or call off the guards. Zinc has antioxidant properties, and it’s essential in the development of T-cells, your body’s guards against antigens. The full details of the zinc-immunity connection aren’t yet fully understood, but studies clearly link zinc supplements with relief of some immune dysfunctions.[2]
  • Supports healing: Zinc supports the function of mucous membranes and skin tissue cells. It’s involved in every step in wound healing, from repairing cell membranes to managing oxidative stress, tissue generation and scar formation.[3]
  • Some forms of zinc may reduce the length of a cold: One study suggests that when rhinovirus, the virus behind the common cold, encounters zinc gluconate in the nasal passages, the mineral beats down the virus and keeps it from multiplying.[4] In another study, people who took zinc gluconate lozenges got over their cold one day faster on average than people who took zinc acetate lozenges.[5]

How much zinc do I need?

Overhead view of foods with zinc

Zinc is easy to find, but hard to get. Since your body doesn’t have a way to store or make zinc, you need to get enough zinc in your diet each day. Men need 11mg of zinc per day, and women need 8mg.[6]

Oysters are mega-high in zinc, but unless you’re tossing back an oyster on the half-shell daily, you’ll want to add more zinc to your diet. Lots of foods contain zinc, and meat is the most convenient source of this essential mineral. The challenge is that the zinc in some foods can’t be used by your body, and other foods may not fit into your diet.

Here’s a list of the top zinc-containing foods:[7]

  • Oysters: 74mg per serving (Winner, winner!)
  • Beef: 7mg in 3oz
  • Crab: 6.5mgin 3oz
  • Baked beans: 5.8mg per cup
  • Lentils: 3mg per cup
  • Breakfast cereal, fortified: 2.8mg per serving (varies by cereal type)
  • Chicken, dark meat: 2.4mg in 3oz
  • Pumpkin seeds: 2.2mg in 1 oz
  • Black beans: 2mg per cup
  • Yogurt: 1.7mg in 8oz
  • Cashews: 1.6mg in 1oz
  • Cheese, Swiss: 1.2mg in 1oz
  • Oatmeal, instant: 1.1mg in 1 packet

Oysters are nature’s super zinc supplement. One oyster contains over six times the daily requirement for men and nine times the recommendation for women. If you love oysters and can enjoy one a day, you’re all set with zinc!

The rest of us have to get creative to make sure we’re getting enough. Even if the labels say foods contain a healthy dose of zinc, your body may not be able to absorb as much as you want. It depends on how the food is prepared and what you eat with it. Keep reading for details.

Related: What Is Bioavailability? How to Make Sure Your Supplements Actually Work

What’s the best way to get zinc?

Zinc supplement on orange table

First of all, be mindful of how much zinc you’re taking in relation to copper.

When you take too much zinc, it can actually compete for absorption with copper—but you need both in your diet. (That’s why you want to take it zinc and copper in science-backed amounts, like what you get in Zinc with Copper.)

Another complication: When taken in high doses, folic acid may impair your body’s zinc metabolism.[8] [9] So, don’t take high doses of folic acid with zinc.

Lastly, while beans and lentils score high on the zinc meter, they also contain phytates which bind to zinc. This makes the zinc unable to be absorbed by your body, so all that healthy zinc goes down the drain. (Literally.) To get enough zinc, steer away from unleavened grains such as crackers. If you eat bread, look for breads containing sprouted grains.

You can also soak beans and lentils for several hours before cooking them. This releases the zinc from the phytates to make it more absorbable. To play it safe, vegetarians should aim to get 50% more zinc than meat-eaters to ensure they reach their daily requirements.[10]

Related: The Complete Bulletproof Guide to Gluten and Grains

Types of zinc supplements

Bulletproof Zinc with Copper next to green smoothie and orange

If you want to make sure you’re hitting your daily recommended dose of zinc, the safest bet is to take a zinc supplement. You’ll see zinc listed as zinc sulfate, zinc gluconate, zinc acetate and zinc orotate. Don’t worry—research says they’re all equally bioavailable, absorbable and tolerated. Some zinc lozenges, marketed for sore throats, also apply as a supplement, but note that some zinc nasal sprays have been linked to a loss of smell.[11]

How do you choose the best zinc supplement?

Follow these two steps:

  1. Don’t take zinc and folic acid at the same time. Many multivitamins contain both, and that folic acid may block your body from metabolizing the zinc alongside it. (This is one of the reasons you should throw away your multivitamin.)
  2. Make sure your zinc supplement also contains copper. You can actually deplete your copper levels by taking zinc on its own, which is why you want to take them together.

Bonus benefit: Zinc and copper combine to become a boosted antioxidant enzyme called copper-zinc superoxide dismutase (CuZnSOD), which helps your body fight oxidative stress.

For a supplement that combines the power of zinc and copper, check out Bulletproof Zinc with Copper. Together, this powerhouse duo:

  • Supports your cardiovascular system
  • Plays an important role in your brain and body’s stress response, supporting your mood
  • Keeps your immune system strong
  • Supports the conversion of amino acids into usable cellular energy
  • Helps to promote normal testosterone and estrogen levels
  • Helps to signal apoptosis which normally regulates cells based on age, condition or cell health
  • Helps to fortify cell membranes to reduce oxidative damage
  • Plays an integral role in maintaining prostate health

How do you take a zinc supplement?

Here are a few important points lot of people don’t know about zinc supplements.

Alcohol reduces your body’s ability to absorb zinc. So, if you like a glass of wine or cocktail in the evening, don’t take your supplement at night.

Are you taking a course of antibiotics? Pop your zinc two hours before or four to six hours after you take antibiotics, or the interaction will reduce effectiveness of both.

Some supplements are best absorbed when they’re taken without food. Zinc is one of them. However, zinc may upset your stomach if you take it without anything in your system. That’s why we recommend taking Zinc with Copper with food for most people—you’ll still get all the good stuff thanks to science-backed doses of zinc and copper.

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