Let’s Talk Zinc

Content reviewed by Pharmaca’s Health Care Advisory Board

Don Summerfield, Herbalist & Pharmaca’s Vice President of Integrative Medicine; Sally Abayati, RPh, southern California Pharmacy Market Manager; Ashleigh Putnam, Naturopathic Doctor, Pharmaca Monterey; Karen Carleton, Naturopathic Doctor, Pharmaca Portland; and Allison Egan, Naturopathic Doctor, Pharmaca Seattle-Queen Anne.

Zinc basics

Zinc is the second-most abundant trace mineral found in the body (second only to iron), is involved in more than 200 enzymatic reactions, and plays a key role in genetic expression, cell division and growth. Zinc is an essential mineral—meaning your body doesn’t make it—so it must be obtained from the diet or supplementation. In most diets, the majority of zinc comes from red meat, poultry, and oysters, with lesser amounts from beans and nuts.

Who is susceptible to a zinc deficiency?

Populations particularly susceptible to a zinc deficiency are athletes who engage in prolonged activity and lose zinc in sweat; vegans or vegetarians who have lower dietary intakes; the elderly due to decreased intake and poor absorption; teenagers because of poor diet; and immune-compromised individuals and burn victims due to increased need.

Why is zinc important for optimal health?

Zinc supplementation increases general wellness, and is beneficial for immune health, skin and connective tissue, growth in children, reproductive health, and nerve and eye health.* In men, an adequate zinc level also supports prostate health and the normal production of testosterone.* And, because it supports the skin, zinc also plays an important role in wound healing.*

Zinc and immune support

Perhaps of singular importance is zinc’s role in the function of your immune system (the reason you reach for a zinc lozenge when you have a sore throat).* A zinc deficiency can depress your body’s immune responses, thus reducing the elimination of pathogens, reducing the response to threats, and limiting the production of antibodies.* The antioxidant properties of zinc also mitigate oxidative stress—a process that damages cells and tissues, particularly when an individual has an infection.*

What form of zinc is best?

An important goal when supplementing with zinc is to absorb the greatest amount of the mineral from the fewest number of capsules and without side effects. So, how is this best accomplished?

The form the mineral is in—including the compound it’s bound to—matters. Although minerals are not particularly well absorbed by the human body, this obstacle can be partially overcome by optimizing the form the mineral is in, because certain forms of minerals, including zinc, are better absorbed than others.

Thorne offers two well-absorbed forms of zinc—zinc picolinate and zinc bisglycinate—that are featured in many of their product formulas, as well as in stand-alone zinc products. If one had to draw a distinction, then zinc bisglycinate has data showing slightly better absorption compared to zinc picolinate. On the other hand, zinc picolinate, also a well absorbed form, has a longer history of use as a dietary supplement and, as such, is the subject of more clinical studies.

Ultimately, better absorption means greater efficacy and tolerability.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.