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What is Zinc?

Zinc is a mineral and belongs to the trace elements.

What are the functions of Zinc?

Zinc has an astonishing number of functions. It is a cofactor for a variety of reactions and is also relevant for the immune system. It is particularly important for the innate immune system1. Among other things, zinc protects the cells against the entry of pathogens and supports the thymus and bone marrow in their function. Zinc also helps to control the immune cells in the blood, for example zinc can regulate some lymphocyte genes. Zinc also has antioxidant properties and supports DNA replication and cell division. As if that wasn't enough, zinc is also important for skin, hair and nails.2

What makes Zinc unique?

Zinc has a special role in the immune system. It seems as if there is no end to the effects of zinc. Although it was thought that the effect of zinc was mainly limited to the innate immune system, it turns out that zinc goes much further. We can probably expect a lot more from this mineral. Zinc has also been used to treat wounds and skin rashes.3

How much Zinc do you need per day?

The recommended intake of zinc according to the German Nutrition Society (DGE) is as follows5:

Age Zinc mg/day male Zinc mg/day female
0 to under 4 months 1,5 1,5
4 to under 12 months 2,5 2,5
Children and teenagers    
1 to under 4 years 3 3
4 to under 7 years 4 4
7 to under 10 years 6 6
10 to under 13 years 9 8
13 to under 15 years 12 10
15 to under 19 years 14 11
19 to under 25 years 11 to 16* 7 to 10*
25 to under 51 years 11 to 16* 7 to 10*
51 to under 65 years 11 to 16* 7 to 10*
65 years and older 11 to 16* 7 to 10*
Pregnant women    
2rd trimester 7 to 11*
3rd trimester 9 to 13*
Breastfeeding   11 to 14*

* The absorption of zinc in adults is influenced by the phytate content of the diet. People who eat a mainly or exclusively plant-based diet, or who eat a lot of whole grain products and pulses, have a higher zinc requirement. This is because this type of diet is associated with a high phytate intake and therefore reduced zinc absorption.

When do you need Zinc most?

If you want to support your immune system, zinc is important. Taking zinc as a preventative measure can lead to a stronger immune system, as the cells' barriers against pathogens are strengthened.4

How does a Zinc deficiency develop and how does it manifest itself?

Soils in Europe have a high zinc content, which is why the supply of this micronutrient is generally guaranteed. However, an unbalanced diet, the intake of certain medications and intestinal diseases such as Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis can cause a zinc deficiency. In adults, this can lead to increased susceptibility to infections, impaired wound healing, skin inflammation and hair loss. In children, it can lead to growth retardation.6

What happens if there is an overdose of Zinc?

Anyone taking zinc supplements should not exceed the maximum amount of 6.5 mg per day recommended by the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR). An overdose can cause symptoms of intoxication such as nausea, headaches and diarrhea.7

Which foods are particularly high in Zinc?

Oysters, liver, oatmeal, cheese, nuts and legumes contain a considerable amount of zinc. However, a high zinc intake hinders the absorption of copper.

Further blog articles on the topic

Minerals, trace elements and electrolytes: the big picture
Nothing works in the body without them: minerals and trace elements are the driving forces behind many vital processes. In this article, you can find out which of these substances are essential and where you can get them from.
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What is iron, what function and effect does it have on your well-being?
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This dictionary entry is based on carefully researched sources:

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