The health benefits of zinc are often discussed including its ability to boost the immune system and promote healthy brain functioning.
However, is there a such thing as having too much zinc? What are the side effects of zinc poisoning?
Is zinc essential?
Zinc is an important part of a healthy, balanced diet. It is considered an essential trace mineral, meaning you do not need much of it in your system, but you must maintain a healthy level of zinc in order to stay healthy.
Zinc plays a vital role in metabolizing our nutrients as well as producing DNA and proteins for cell health. It also promotes healthy brain function, such as by helping us to learn and remember new concepts and to fight depression, stress, and mood swings.
It also aids in maintaining healthy skin and healing our wounds when we are injured or ill, and it treats certain other health conditions, including the common cold.
Both men and women can even increase sex drive and treat erectile dysfunction with improved blood flow and a greater ability to produce testosterone.
However, zinc is best known for its ability to help regulate our immune system. It has antioxidants that fight inflammation, back pain, and heart problems. This helps us to stay stronger and healthier when we are faced with infection and other pathogens.
In fact, zinc deficiencies can also cause a wide variety of other health issues, such as hair loss, a strange, metallic taste in your mouth, loss of your sense of smell, and weight loss.
Additionally, zinc is used to treat a wide variety of serious health issues, including Type 2 diabetes, kidney and liver disease, eating disorders, skin problems, alcoholism, and trauma.
Zinc has so many health benefits that many people have decided to take zinc supplements to maximize the benefits. However, is this wise? Since we can get zinc from a healthy diet, do we even need supplements? How much is too much?
How much zinc do I actually need?
Adult men should consume 11 mg of zinc per day, while adult women should consume 8 mg of zinc every day.
This is roughly the equivalent of 2 chicken leg quarters (which means 2 legs and 2 thighs), 2 individual oysters, or 2 king crab legs.
You can even exceed the recommended daily value by eating a 6-ounce ribeye steak. As you can see, it’s easy to meet or even exceed the recommended daily value. And in these amounts, consuming excess zinc is not dangerous.
For example, vegans and vegetarians are recommended to eat more zinc foods than people who eat meat. Certain vegetables, including beans, nuts, and other legumes, have a negative impact on our ability to absorb zinc into our bodies.
We lose the zinc within our body fluids much more quickly when we only have fruits and vegetables in our systems, so vegans and vegetarians are encouraged to eat considerably more zinc foods. However, the most that anyone should consume per day is 40 mg.
Additionally, people who take zinc to address a specific health concern should also be cautious. For example, taking proper levels of zinc has been known to fight erectile dysfunction, also called ED.
Therefore, some men take more than the recommended amount of zinc in order to treat sexual dysfunction (or improve their sexual function even if they don’t have ED).
In fact, taking too much zinc is counterproductive to improving sexual function, as it can lead to fatigue, low self-esteem, and a wide variety of other side effects. Research is underway to determine whether too much zinc causes low sperm count.
What happens if I eat too much zinc?
It’s easy to get more zinc than the recommended daily intake value in your diet, especially if you binge on oysters or visit a seafood boil. However, if you eat more than 40 mg of zinc per day, you are at risk of developing headaches and a loss of appetite.
Additionally, the biggest problem with consuming more than 40 mg of zinc per day may be gastrointestinal problems, including stomach cramps, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. This is your body’s natural response to the excess zinc – it tries to rid itself of the overaccumulation of zinc in your system.
If you continue to eat too much zinc on an ongoing basis, the zinc side effects will be more severe. Zinc can become toxic within your body and result in zinc poisoning.
This rarely occurs from healthy eating practices, and instead is generally the result of taking too many vitamin supplements or taking vitamin supplements in addition to a diet that is already high in zinc content.
Zinc poisoning can also result in flu-like symptoms, including fever, chills, fatigue, and cough. Additionally, zinc poisoning has a negative impact on our HDL cholesterol, which is the good cholesterol that our body needs in order to prevent the buildup of plaque in arteries.
Perhaps the most serious side effect of zinc poisoning is its interference with our ability to absorb copper. Copper is an essential mineral that helps us benefit from the iron in our systems, and it also aids in the healthy metabolism to convert food into energy.
Copper deficiencies can cause weakness, fatigue, brittle bones, vision loss, and issues with our cognitive function and learning ability – it can even impact our ability to walk.
Too much zinc in your system will make your copper deficiency worse and have a negative impact on different aspects of your life.
Taking too much zinc over long periods of time can also result in anemia. This occurs because too much zinc interferes with the production of red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout the body.
Anemia can be characterized by pale skin, irregular heartbeat, shortness of breath, dizziness, chest pain, and headaches.
If you have questions about the right amount of zinc that you need in your diet, be sure to consult a healthcare professional regarding your individual health care needs.