Zinc is an antioxidant mineral that benefits your immune system. It helps your cells divide properly and assists with the growth and development of infants, children and teens. The Institute of Medicine recommends that men get 11 milligrams of zinc per day and that women get 8 milligrams daily. Taking in an adequate amount of this mineral may help you prevent and treat viral infections and shorten the duration of illness.
An adequate dietary intake of zinc helps keep your skin and mucus membranes healthy, according to the National Institutes of Health. People who have leg ulcers and other types of wounds tend to be low in this mineral, prompting doctors to prescribe zinc supplements to them, but it is unclear whether oral zinc supplementation helps repair wounds in people who are not zinc deficient. As a topical treatment, zinc is beneficial, according to researchers who published a review paper in "Wound Repair and Regeneration" in 2008. They reported that zinc's antioxidant properties help prevent bacteria from entering wounds, speeding healing time. Topical administration of zinc, they said, reduces infections and is useful in healing surgical wounds.
Shortening Cold Duration
Some over-the-counter cold medications and throat lozenges contain zinc, claiming that the mineral may lessen the severity of symptoms. Taking high doses of zinc benefits people with the common cold, according to Harri Hemila, a Finnish researcher who published a study in the "Open Respiratory Medical Journal" in 2011. Hemila conducted 13 trials in which he gave zinc to people who had colds. He found that those who took 75 milligrams or more per day experienced significantly shorter cold durations than people who took lower doses of zinc.
Zinc helps a child's body resist viral infections and shortens the severity and duration of diarrhea, according to authors of a 2008 "Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care" review paper. Children with diarrheal diseases have benefited from taking 20-milligram doses of zinc sulfate, gluconate or acetate for 10 to 14 days. Infants have benefited from daily 10-milligram doses to treat diarrhea. Because antibiotic resistance is on the rise, the researchers concluded that oral zinc supplementation is an affordable, practical treatment for diarrhea in children and adults.
Taking a large amount of zinc for a prolonged period can cause zinc toxicity, a condition that may increase your LDL cholesterol and impair your senses of taste and smell. It may cause cardiovascular problems, according to researchers from a study published in "International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health" in 2008. Overdosing on zinc may also cause a copper deficiency, inhibiting your nerve function and cellular energy production. Adults should not take more than 40 milligrams of zinc per day and children can tolerate even less, so do not treat a cold or illness with large doses of zinc without your health care provider's advice.
- Open Respiratory Medical Journal: Zinc Lozenges May Shorten the Duration of Colds: A Systematic Review
- U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine: Zinc: an Essential Trace Element With Potential Benefits to Soldiers
- Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care: Zinc and Diarrheal Disease -- Current Status and Future Perspectives
- International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health: The Essential Toxin: Impact of Zinc on Human Health
- Institute of Medicine: Dietary Reference Intakes -- Tolerable Upper Intake Levels
- Institute of Medicine: Dietary Reference Intakes -- Vitamins and Minerals
- National Institutes of Health: Zinc
- Wound Repair and Regeneration: Zinc in Wound Healing -- Theoretical, Experimental, and Clinical Aspects
Maia Appleby is a NASM-certified personal trainer with more than 15 years of experience in the fitness industry. Her articles have been published in a wide variety of print magazines and online publications, including the Gale Encyclopedia of Nursing and Allied Health, New Moon Network and Bodybuilding.com.