Zinc is a trace mineral and essential micronutrient, which is probably most notable for the critical role it plays in our immune system.*
Now, given how much immunity has been a topic of conversation over the past two years, it only makes sense that you might be considering zinc supplements.
Zinc is available in certain foods like oysters, red meat, poultry, fortified breakfast cereals, beans, nuts, whole grains, and dairy products.
That said, there is a zinc dietary gap, particularly for vegetarians and vegans.
As mbg vice president of scientific affairs Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., R.D., previously wrote: "Considering food sources alone, 15% of U.S. adults are not getting enough zinc. Because this statistic comes from nationally representative data, that means that approximately 50 million Americans have an unaddressed zinc gap."
If you do fall into the category of people who need to take a zinc supplement, you'll want to make sure you're getting the most out of it.
In addition to choosing the optimal form of zinc (more on that here)—it's important to consider the time of day you take your zinc supplement, how often to take it, and what else you're taking alongside your zinc.
When should you take zinc: morning or night?
A lot of it comes down to personal preference. "It does not matter what time of the day a zinc supplement is taken," says Deborah Cohen, DCN, RDN, associate professor in the Department of Clinical and Preventive Nutrition Sciences at the Rutgers School of Health Professions. "No matter what time, the body metabolizes zinc exactly the same way."
Ferira adds the caveat that, "For some individuals, taking zinc on an empty stomach can make them queasy, and this can be true for those people in the morning generally. A chelated zinc is more gentle, but regardless, it's an important individual consideration, as with most nutrition queries."
Also, there is some data to suggest that taking zinc at night "may help with quality of sleep,"* says Vijaya Surampudi, M.D., a professor of internal medicine at UCLA Health.
Can you take zinc every day?
The decision to take a zinc supplement or zinc-containing complex depends on the individual's needs.
"For ensuring nutritional sufficiency of this essential mineral and for intentional, targeted support for immune function, daily zinc input is not only OK, it's prudent,"* Ferira explains.
Nutritionist Keri Gans, R.D., author of The Small Change Diet, agrees, adding that "As long as you are following the recommended dosage, zinc is safe to be consumed daily."
Additionally, Surampudi points out that there are some groups of people that have particular trouble getting enough zinc and for whom daily supplementation should be top of mind (and often, in direct partnership with their health care provider):
- People who have health issues or procedures that reduce absorption of minerals in the gut or in which surface area of the gut is more limited.
- Vegetarians and vegans, given that many of the top zinc dietary sources are meat-based. Beans and grains that vegetarians often eat have competing compounds that keep zinc from being fully absorbed and utilized by the body.
- People who regularly consume excess alcohol, because alcohol decreases the amount of zinc that the body absorbs.
How much zinc should you take?
In addition to those daily minimums we need to hit (at least 8 and 11 milligrams for women and men, respectively), pregnant women require at least 11 milligrams, while breastfeeding moms should aim for 12 milligrams each day.
The question of individualized dosing can be raised with your health care practitioner.
If you or your health care provider suspect that you may have a deficiency, Surampudi says you'll likely be given a blood test (i.e., serum or plasma zinc) to confirm it. That can also help determine how much zinc you should take, she says.
As for bolstering immune resilience, Ferira takes 15 mg of zinc bisglycinate daily provided via mindbodygreen's immune support+ supplement.*
What should you not take with zinc?
Certain foods and other minerals taken at high doses can interfere with zinc absorption, including the following:
- Bran and fiber-filled foods
"If consuming these foods and minerals, you should try and take the zinc supplement at least two hours before or after," Gans says.
For possible medication interactions (e.g., antibiotics, diuretics, etc.), it's best to check in directly with your doctor, Cording says.
Zinc is an important nutrient that can help support your body's immunity, among other things.*
Many people are able to get enough zinc from diet alone, but others need to supplement.
Getting the timing of your zinc supplementation right can increase the odds you'll get the levels you need.
Korin Miller is a freelance writer specializing in general wellness, relationships, and lifestyle trends with a master’s degree from American University. Her work has appeared in Women’s Health, Prevention, Self, Glamour, and more. She lives by the beach, and hopes to own a taco truck one day.