What Does Zinc Do For the Body and Mind?

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Zinc is a nutrient that can be found in several foods. It’s also an essential mineral your body and mind need to function optimally. It is a trace mineral meaning you only need a small amount, but it is vital for many chemical reactions in the body involving cell growth, healing, and immune function.

This article will look at what zinc does for the body and mind and why you need to include the recommended daily requirement in your diet.

What Happens When You Have a Zinc Deficiency? 

A zinc deficiency happens when your body isn’t getting enough zinc to function properly. This could be because of a medical condition or a deficit in your diet. It can be improved by making dietary changes or taking zinc supplements.

In children, zinc deficiency could slow down growth and development. Some symptoms of zinc deficiency include: 

  • Hair loss 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Weight loss 
  • Fatigue
  • Slowed growth or development 
  • Problems with your sense of taste and smell
  • Difficulty seeing in the dark 
  • Skin sores 
  • Having wounds that are difficult to heal

What Causes a Zinc Deficiency? 

Several things could be responsible for causing a zinc deficiency, from developing certain medical conditions to changes in diet. Some of the most common reasons or factors that put you at risk of developing a zinc deficiency include:

  • Having a digestive disorder such as Crohn’s disease 
  • Having sickle cell disease 
  • Being vegetarian (this could reduce zinc-rich food sources)
  • Abusing alcohol, which could reduce the amount of zinc in your body and increase the amount of zinc your body loses 
  • Being over the age of 65 
  • Being pregnant or lactating 
  • Having severe or persistent diarrhea 

Benefits of Zinc for Your Body 

Zinc has several benefits for your body. It’s beneficial and crucial for the optimal functioning of several bodily functions. Some of the most important benefits of zinc include: 

  • Immune System: Zinc is essential for the normal development and function of cells in your immune system. When your body has low zinc levels, your immune system will be affected, and you are more at risk of developing an infection.
  • Skin Health: Zinc is vital to maintain and improve your skin’s health. If you have low zinc levels, you might find that wounds are slower to heal than usual. In a 2018 study, researchers observed that zinc plays an essential role in every stage of the wound healing process. 
  • Antioxidant: Zinc has been proven to have antioxidant properties that can help decrease the risk for several chronic aging-related conditions such as cardiac disorders and certain cancers. 
  • Diarrhea treatment: Research shows that zinc supplementation can be helpful in the management of diarrhea in children. The World Health Organization recommends giving children with acute diarrhea 20 mg of zinc supplements for 10 to 14 days to reduce the severity diarrhea and prevent it from recurring for up to three months.
  • Bone health: Research shows that maintaining healthy zinc levels may help prevent bone health conditions such as osteoporosis. This is because zinc is essential for the maintenance of healthy bones. Zinc also appears to aid bone regeneration. However, further research needs to be done to understand how exactly zinc can help to aid bone regeneration. 
  • Sexual health: Low zinc levels have been linked to several sexual health problems like infertility. In a 2021 study, researchers found that giving zinc supplements to postmenopausal women with low sex drive significantly improved their sexual desire and satisfaction. 
  • Cold treatment: Zinc has proven to be very effective in improving the symptoms of a cold. Research shows that taking zinc lozenges within the first 24 hours of a cold can reduce the severity of your symptoms and alleviate them more quickly. 
  • Macular degeneration: Macular degeneration brought on by age may be able to be slowed by ensuring you are getting enough zinc in your diet.

Benefits of Zinc for Your Mind 

A lot of focus is often put on the benefits of zinc for your body. However, zinc is also very beneficial for your mind. Some of the benefits of zinc for your mind include: 

  • Memory: There has been early research into how zinc may improve your memory and learning function. In a 2017 study, researchers found that rats who had been given zinc supplements showed signs of improved memory and mental functioning. 
  • Depression: Some research shows that people with depression have lower zinc levels than non-depressed controls. This has led to research into whether zinc could positively This leads researchers to believe that uptake in zinc could positively affect depression symptoms. However, more research needs to be done to validate this theory.

Zinc-Containing Foods

Children and adults need to get adequate amounts of zinc, no matter their age or sex. The recommended daily intake for children is between three to eight milligrams daily. For adults, the recommended daily intake is eight to eleven milligrams.

Zinc-Rich Food Sources

The following foods are excellent sources of zinc: 

  • Fish 
  • Beans 
  • Nuts 
  • Red meat
  • Oysters 
  • Dairy
  • Fortified breakfast cereals 
  • Whole grains 

For people who don’t have access to enough zinc through foods, taking zinc supplements is an option you should consider. It’s essential to take these supplements exactly as prescribed because consuming an excess of zinc could lead to zinc toxicity.

Symptoms of zinc toxicity include: 

  • Diarrhea 
  • Stomach pain 
  • Headaches 
  • Appetite loss 
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting 

A Word From Verywell

If you think you might be low on zinc, it's best to consult your physician and they can assess this and can help guide you so you can safely introduce more zinc into your diet if necessary.

15 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Toketemu Ohwovoriole
Toketemu has been multimedia storyteller for the last four years. Her expertise focuses primarily on mental wellness and women’s health topics.