Winter Wellness – Zinc

Winter Wellness – Zinc

This mineral is more important than you “zink”!

No, that’s not my German Opa talking… science has proven that ZINC truly is a crucial nutrient for several body systems.  It’s role in the immune response became clear in the 1960’s when studies revealed that those suffering from widespread infections in endemic areas of the world were overwhelmingly found to be zinc deficient.    More common in the Western world are mild deficiencies, which are still linked with increased susceptibility to various infections.

Although we know zinc is so important in keeping our resistance to infections high, it is not yet clear whether taking lozenges at the first sign of a cold is helpful.  Some studies say yes, some show no difference.  The nasal spray, Zicam, was removed from the market because of a predisposition to cause a loss of sense of smell.

While the issue of whether benefits are produced acutely is still under question, how can you take advantage of zinc’s protection during the winter months?  By making sure you are topped off as a preventative measure.  A listing of the foods highest in zinc content is listed below.  It is also available in supplement form, in a variety of salt forms.  Zinc picolinate is well absorbed, as are the sulfate and chelates.  It is best to take zinc separated from foods as they may hinder absorption.  A maintenance dose of 15 mg is usually sufficient, although using 30 mg daily for a short period of time may help to bring up levels which are low.

Is there a way to know whether your zinc levels are low?  Yes, in the form of a taste test called the Zinc Challenge.  We can give you a small amount of liquid to hold in your mouth for 30 seconds.  If you get a strong taste of something like hydrogen peroxide right away, it is a good sign and means your body has adequate stores of zinc.  Tasting nothing, or deriving only a mild flavor indicates additional amounts are needed to keep your immune system ready for exposures.  Stop by the pharmacy at any time to take the challenge!

Below are food sources as mentioned…..

Shellfish, beef, and other red meats are rich sources of zinc. Nuts and legumes are relatively good plant sources of zinc. Zinc bioavailability (the fraction of zinc retained and used by the body) is relatively high in meat, eggs, and seafood because of the relative absence of compounds that inhibit zinc absorption and the presence of certain amino acids (cysteine and methionine) that improve zinc absorption. The zinc in whole grain products and plant proteins is less bioavailable due to their relatively high content of phytic acid, a compound that inhibits zinc absorption (5). The enzymatic action of yeast reduces the level of phytic acid in foods. Therefore, leavened whole grain breads have more bioavailable zinc than unleavened whole grain breads. Recently, national dietary surveys in the U.S. estimated that the average dietary zinc intake was 9 mg/day for adult women and 13 mg/day for adult men (4). The zinc content of some relatively zinc-rich foods is listed in milligrams (mg) in the table below. For more information on the nutrient content of specific foods, search the USDA food composition database.

Food Serving

Zinc (mg)

Oysters 6 medium (cooked)


Crab, Dungeness 3 ounces (cooked)


Beef 3 ounces* (cooked)


Pork 3 ounces (cooked)


Chicken (dark meat) 3 ounces (cooked)


Turkey (dark meat) 3 ounces (cooked)


Yogurt, fruit 1 cup (8 ounces)


Cheese, cheddar 1 ounce


Milk 1 cup (8 ounces)


Cashews 1 ounce


Almonds 1 ounce


Peanuts 1 ounce


Beans, baked 1/2 cup


Chickpeas (garbanzo beans) 1/2 cup


*A three-ounce serving of meat is about the size of a deck of cards.

Mol Med. 2008 May-Jun;14(5-6):353-7.  Zinc in human health: effect of zinc on immune cells.  Prasad AS.

Shankar, A.H. & Prasad, A.S. Zinc and immune function: the biological basis of altered resistance to infection. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1998; volume 68: pages 447S-463S.  (PubMed)

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