The Benefits of Zinc for Immune Health

zinc and immune health

Many people know that zinc is an important nutrient for immune system health, but what exactly does zinc do for the immune system? In this article, we are going to explore the benefits of zinc and how zinc can boost your immune health.


What Is Zinc?

zinc trace mineral


Zinc is a mineral and an essential nutrient the body needs for various important physiological functions. Zinc is considered a trace mineral, which means your body only needs small amounts of it—unlike major minerals like calcium and magnesium, which your body needs in much larger amounts. (1) Even though the body needs only small amounts of zinc, it’s important to ensure you are getting the recommended daily amounts, as zinc is necessary for catalyzing over 100 enzymatic processes in the body. (2) It is also considered to be a co-factor in over 300 different enzymatic processes. (3)


What Does Zinc Do for the Body?


There are many different roles that zinc plays in the body. Some of the primary functions that zinc contributes to include:

  • The creation of DNA
  • The growth of cells
  • Building proteins
  • Healing damaged tissue
  • Supporting healthy immune system function (3)


What Is the Recommended Daily Amount of Zinc?


According to the Harvard School of Medicine:


The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for adults 19+ years is 11 mg a day for men and 8 mg for women. Pregnancy and lactation require slightly more at 11 mg and 12 mg, respectively.” (4)


How Much Zinc Per Day for Immune Health?


Because this trace mineral plays such an important role in immune system function, people commonly ask what is the best zinc dosage for immune health. When fighting off an illness like the common cold or flu, zinc can be taken in higher doses than the normal RDA to fight off the infection. Exactly how much zinc for immune health one can take is not conclusive. However, a review of seven studies found that taking up to 92 mg of zinc helped reduce the common cold's duration by 33%. (5)


It’s important not to take too much zinc, as excess zinc can cause uncomfortable side effects like diarrhea, upset stomach, and nausea. So, it is recommended to stick to around the RDA of 8-11 mg for preventing zinc deficiencies, and in the cases of fighting off a cold or infection, to take up to 92 mg per day until your health is back to normal. Of course, it is always best to consult your doctor first if you consider taking supplements beyond the standard recommended dosage.


How Does Zinc Affect the Immune System?

zinc immune system


Zinc plays a role in multiple aspects of the immune system. According to one study:


“Zinc is crucial for normal development and function of cells mediating innate immunity, neutrophils, and NK cells. Macrophages also are affected by zinc deficiency. Phagocytosis, intracellular killing, and cytokine production all are affected by zinc deficiency.” (6)


Natural Killer (NK) cells, also known as NK-LGL, are a type of white blood cell with small enzyme particles that can kill tumor cells or cells infected with a virus. 


Macrophages are specialized cells that are involved in the detection and destruction of bacteria and other harmful organisms. They ingest and destroy these organisms in a process known as phagocytosis. They also present antigens to T cells and trigger an inflammatory immune response by releasing molecules called cytokines that activate other cells.


Inflammation is often considered a bad thing, but short-term or acute, inflammation is a necessary part of the immune system and healing process. Long-term, or chronic, inflammation is the issue, as it can begin to impact normal physiological functions and severely impact health, eventually leading to disease. (7)


Zinc plays a major role in the process of the immune cells mentioned above, and without zinc, the immune system cannot function as efficiently, increasing the risk of infection and illness. 


Zinc deficiency can adversely affect the growth and function of T and B cells—two important types of immune cells. (6) Zinc can also function as an antioxidant, fighting off free radicals and protecting cells from the damage caused by oxidative stress. The antioxidant properties of zinc stabilize cell membranes and can help reduce free radical-induced injury during inflammatory processes. (6)


Zinc is critical for overall immune function, and without it, we are much more likely to get ill. In fact, in some studies, premature deaths by infections have been directly linked to zinc deficiency—particularly in children. (6,8)


What Are the Signs of Zinc Deficiency?


A lack of zinc in the diet can begin to show some signs of zinc deficiency. The most notable symptoms of a zinc deficiency include:


  • Delayed growth or delayed puberty in children
  • Diarrhea
  • Alopecia
  • Glossitis
  • Nail dystrophy
  • Hypogonadism (in males)
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Decreased immunity (2)


Food Sources of Zinc

food sources of zinc


Zinc is a nutrient that can be found in many different foods, particularly animal foods. It is notably high in:


  • Oysters
  • Fish
  • Seafood
  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Eggs
  • Dairy


However, zinc can also be found in plant foods, usually in fewer amounts than animal foods. Some of the best plant-based sources of zinc include:


  • Pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Tofu
  • Walnuts
  • Cashews
  • Chia seeds
  • Hemp seeds
  • Quinoa
  • Wholemeal bread


What Is the Best Type of Zinc to Supplement With?


It can be difficult for people on a plant-based or vegan diet to get enough zinc daily, increasing the risk for zinc deficiencies. In addition, people that have digestive issues may also have difficulty properly absorbing zinc from food, even animal foods. For these reasons, many health experts recommend people in these groups supplement with zinc to ensure they get adequate amounts in their diet.


However, there is an issue with many zinc supplements as well. Many zinc supplements available today are made with synthetic ingredients and are difficult for the body to recognize and absorb. Zinc sulfate, the least expensive zinc available on the market, is particularly difficult to digest and absorb.


For optimal absorption, it is recommended to get a whole-food zinc supplement that is extracted from a natural source high in zinc. Our Liposomal Guava Leaf Zinc Tonic, for example, offers a plant-derived source of zinc in the most bioavailable form that the body can receive. Zinc from a whole food source like guava leaf is much better for the body than an inorganic zinc extract.


 Our Guava Leaf Zinc Tonic contains 7.5 mg of bioavailable zinc per serving, derived from organic guava leaves. We extract our guava leaves using a water extraction process free of chemicals. It also contains no toxic excipients, is vegan, and is 100% Organic.




Zinc is an essential trace mineral that the body needs for hundreds of different enzymatic processes. Some of the primary roles of zinc in the body include:


  • The creation of DNA
  • The growth of cells
  • Building proteins
  • Healing damaged tissue
  • Supporting healthy immune system function


Many of the enzymatic processes that zinc supports in the body play a role in the production and function of various immune cells, such as NK cells, macrophages, T cells, and B cells. Without zinc, the immune system cannot function as efficiently, which can increase the risk of disease and even death.


It is critical to ensure that you are getting enough zinc in your diet—as well as getting other essential nutrients. You can get plenty of zinc in your diet by eating foods high in zinc, such as animal-based foods, or if you are on a plant-based diet, from the foods mentioned above (notably, nuts, seeds, and legumes).


Some experts recommend people supplement with zinc, particularly those on a plant-based diet or those with digestive issues that may interfere with their absorption of certain nutrients. In this case, it is best to opt for a zinc supplement derived from an organic whole food source, as it is more easily recognized and absorbed by the body than inorganic zinc extracts.


If you notice any of the symptoms of zinc deficiency or are considering taking a zinc supplement, it is recommended to consult your doctor first to ensure what is best for you.




Products mentioned in this post

Liposomal Guava Leaf Zinc Tonic

Liposomal Guava Leaf Zinc Tonic


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