Zinc is a chemical element with the atomic number 30. It is chemically similar to magnesium in some ways since the ions are about the same size and have the same common oxidation state. Zinc is an essential nutrient for virtually all life forms, including humans. It is a component of many enzymes and is also the structural ion for many transcription factors.
Alloys of zinc and copper are known as brass, which has been in use for at least 3,000 years. Zinc has been available at a high level of purity since the 9th century, although commercial zinc production didn’t begin until the 12th century. The German chemist Andreas Sigismund Marggraf is credited with the discovery of zinc as an element in 1746.
Zinc is typically mined from sphalerite, which is a mineral that contains zinc sulfide. This process begins with froth flotation of the ore, which is then roasted. The final extraction of pure zinc from the roasted ore is accomplished with electricity in a process known as electrowinning.
The most abundant dietary sources of zinc include oysters, shellfish, and red meat, especially liver. The best plant-based sources of zinc are alfalfa, wheat germ, and various seeds. The specific content of zinc in plants is highly dependent upon the amount of zinc in the soil. The zinc compounds that are commonly used in health supplements include zinc acetate, zinc citrate and zinc orotate.
Zinc acetate is a salt with the chemical formula Zn(O2CCH3)2. It consists of one zinc ion in ionic association with two acetate anions and is prepared by treating zinc with acetic acid. Its best-known use is in lozenges for the common cold and similar infections. Its value in lozenges results from the fact that virtually all of the zinc is freely released when you suck on it because the acetate doesn’t bind the zinc.
Zinc citrate is a compound with the chemical formula Zn3(C6H5O7)2. It’s more formally known as trizinc dinitrate since it consists of three zinc ions and two citrate anions. Zinc citrate is a source of zinc that’s highly bioavailable.
Zinc orotate consists of one zinc atom and two molecules of orotic acid and has the chemical formula Zn(C5H3N2O4)2. It is a highly bioavailable source of zinc that is quickly absorbed.
Support for the immune system is one of the most common uses for zinc in health supplements. It’s also used to help support digestion, regulate behavior, support healthy blood pressure and manage skin conditions.
Zinc may reduce the duration of colds, especially in adults. This use typically takes the form of lozenges containing zinc acetate.
Many zinc compounds may help to manage to severity and duration of diarrhea. This benefit of zinc is most useful for undernourished children.
Some oral zinc supplements can help to maintain normal behavior in children, including activity level, impulse control, and socialization.
Zinc supplements may help support the body’s ability to manage acne, especially when it’s caused by a low level of zinc in the blood or skin.
Zinc deficiency is usually the result of insufficient dietary intake, although some chronic conditions may also prevent the proper absorption of zinc from the intestines. Zinc deficiency is common in the elderly, due to the reduced ability to absorb zinc from food. Vegetarians are also at higher risk of zinc deficiency because they don’t eat meat, which is a good source of zinc. Also, beans and grains contain compounds that keep zinc from being absorbed by the body. Zinc deficiency can lead to increased levels of DNA damage. The typical signs that you may need zinc supplements are diverse, but most often include diarrhea, poor appetite, and a compromised immune system.
Kim J. Dietary zinc intake is inversely associated with systolic blood pressure in young obese women. Nutr Res Pract. 2013 Oct;7(5):380-4. doi: 10.4162/nrp.2013.7.5.380. Epub 2013 Oct 1. Erratum in: Nutr Res Pract. 2013 Dec;7(6):519. PMID: 24133617; PMCID: PMC3796663.
Skrajnowska D, Bobrowska-Korczak B. Role of Zinc in Immune System and Anti-Cancer Defense Mechanisms. Nutrients. 2019 Sep 22;11(10):2273.
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