Zinc is an essential trace element commonly found in red meat, poultry, and fish. It is necessary in small amounts for human health, growth, and sense of taste.
Zinc is found throughout the body. The body doesn’t store excess zinc, so it must be obtained from the diet. It’s needed for immune function, wound healing, blood clotting, thyroid function, and much more. It also plays a key role in maintaining vision and might have effects against viruses.
People commonly use zinc for zinc deficiency, diarrhea, and Wilson disease. Zinc is also used for acne, diabetes, anorexia, burns, and many other purposes. There is some scientific evidence to support its use for some of these conditions. But for most, there is no good scientific evidence to support its use. There is also no good evidence to support using zinc for COVID-19.
Uses & Effectiveness ?
Zinc deficiency. Taking zinc by mouth or giving zinc by IV helps to restore zinc levels in people who are zinc deficient. But taking zinc supplements regularly isn’t recommended. IV products can only be given by a healthcare provider.
Likely Effective for
Diarrhea. Taking zinc by mouth reduces the duration and severity of diarrhea in children who are undernourished. Zinc 20 mg daily is the most common dose used. But doses of 5-10 mg also seem to work and cause less vomiting.
An inherited disorder that causes copper to build up in many organs (Wilson disease). Taking zinc by mouth improves symptoms of this condition. Zinc blocks how much copper is absorbed and increases how much copper the body releases.
Possibly Effective for
Acne. Taking zinc by mouth seems to help treat acne. But it’s unclear how zinc compares to acne medications such as tetracycline or minocycline. Applying zinc to the skin alone in an ointment doesn’t seem to help.
A disorder of zinc deficiency (acrodermatitis enteropathica). Taking zinc by mouth seems to help improve symptoms of this condition.
An eye disease that leads to vision loss in older adults (age-related macular degeneration or AMD). Taking zinc by mouth, especially with antioxidant vitamins, might help slow vision loss and prevent age-related vision loss from becoming advanced in people at high risk.
Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In children, taking zinc by mouth along with medicine for ADHD might help reduce certain ADHD symptoms.
Child growth. Taking zinc by mouth during pregnancy seems to help improve the growth of the infant during the first year of life.
Common cold. Sucking on lozenges containing zinc gluconate or zinc acetate helps shorten the length of a cold in adults. But it’s not clear if zinc helps to prevent colds.
Depression. Taking zinc by mouth along with antidepressants seems to improve depression. It might also help in people who don’t respond to treatment with antidepressants alone.
Diabetes. Taking zinc by mouth might help to improve blood sugar control by a small amount in people with diabetes.
Diaper rash. Giving zinc gluconate by mouth to infants seems to help heal diaper rash. Applying zinc oxide paste also seems to help. But it doesn’t seem to work as well as applying 2% eosin solution.
A mild form of gum disease (gingivitis). Using toothpastes containing zinc, with or without an antibacterial agent, seems to help prevent gingivitis.
Bad breath. Chewing gum, sucking on a candy, or using a mouth rinse containing zinc reduces bad breath.
Cold sores (herpes labialis). Applying zinc sulfate or zinc oxide to the skin, alone or with other ingredients, seems to reduce the duration and severity of cold sores.
Reduced ability to taste (hypogeusia). Taking zinc by mouth improves the ability to taste foods in most people who have this condition.
Skin infection caused by Leishmania parasites (Leishmania lesions). Taking zinc sulfate by mouth or injecting as a solution into lesions helps heal lesions in people with this condition. But it doesn’t seem to work as well as conventional treatments. Injections should only be given by a healthcare provider.
Leprosy. Taking zinc by mouth in combination with anti-leprosy drugs seems to help treat leprosy.
Stomach ulcers. Taking zinc acexamate by mouth seems to help treat and prevent stomach ulcers.
Pneumonia. Taking zinc by mouth might help prevent pneumonia in some children. But it doesn’t seem to help children who already have pneumonia.
Bed sores (pressure ulcers). Applying zinc paste to the skin appears to help heal bed sores. Taking zinc by mouth along with vitamin C and arginine might also help.
Sickle cell disease. Taking zinc by mouth seems to help reduce symptoms of sickle cell disease in people with zinc deficiency.
Warts. Applying a zinc ointment appears to be as effective as conventional treatments for curing warts. Taking zinc sulfate by mouth also appears to help.
Possibly Ineffective for Patchy hair loss (alopecia areata). Taking zinc by mouth doesn’t seem to help with hair loss.
Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Taking zinc by mouth doesn’t seem to speed up recovery from COVID-19 in people who haven’t been admitted to the hospital. Zinc also does not improve the response to a drug called hydroxychloroquine.
Cystic fibrosis. Taking zinc by mouth doesn’t improve lung function in children or adolescents with cystic fibrosis.
HIV/AIDS. Taking zinc by mouth doesn’t improve immune function or reduce the risk of death in people with HIV.
Pregnancy complications in people with HIV/AIDS. Taking zinc by mouth during pregnancy does not appear to reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to the infant or prevent other complications.
Involuntary weight loss in people with HIV/AIDS. Taking zinc by mouth does not appear to prevent diarrhea or death in people with this condition.
Infant development. Giving zinc by mouth to infants or children at risk for having low levels of zinc doesn’t seem to improve development. But taking zinc by mouth during pregnancy might increase the growth of the child during the first year of life.
Long-term swelling (inflammation) in the digestive tract (inflammatory bowel disease or IBD). Taking zinc by mouth does not seem to help treat IBD.
Flu (influenza). Taking zinc by mouth doesn’t seem to improve immune function against the flu.
Ear infection (otitis media). Taking zinc by mouth doesn’t seem to prevent ear infections in children.
A pregnancy complication marked by high blood pressure and protein in the urine (pre-eclampsia). Taking zinc does not seem to reduce the risk of high blood pressure in pregnancy.
Prostate cancer. Taking zinc by mouth does not seem to reduce the risk of getting prostate cancer.
Scaly, itchy skin (psoriasis). Taking zinc by mouth does not seem to help treat psoriasis.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Taking zinc by mouth does not seem to help treat rheumatoid arthritis.
Sexual problems that prevent satisfaction during sexual activity. Taking zinc by mouth does not improve sexual function in males with sexual dysfunction related to kidney disease.
Ringing in the ears (tinnitus). Taking zinc by mouth does not seem to help treat ringing in the ears.
Likely InEffective for Malaria. Taking zinc by mouth does not help prevent or treat malaria in undernourished children in developing countries.
There is interest in using zinc for a number of other purposes, but there isn’t enough reliable information to say whether it might be helpful.