Zinc: Keystone to Immunity : Exclusive Renegade Health Article

Wednesday Mar 16 | BY |
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pumpkin seeds high in zinc
Pumpkin seeds are a good source of plant based zinc.

Guest Author: J. E. Williams, OMD, FAAIM

With so much natural health buzz about new herbs, exotic diets, and novel nutraceuticals, zinc has been largely forgotten as one of the most important and essential nutrients. Let’s revisit zinc and find out why you need it every day.

Number 30

Atomic Number 30, zinc is an essential trace element necessary for sustaining all life and human health. At least 3,000 different proteins in the body contain zinc where its ions serve as neurotransmitters and help cells function in the salivary gland, prostate, and intestine. Newly discovered zinc metalloproteases include the digestive enzymes carboxypeptidases and matrix metalloproteases (MMPs) involved in tissue remodeling and the prevention of cancer.

Zinc is necessary for the sense of smell, important in the transport of carbon dioxide in the blood, and prevents birth defects.

Zinc and Immunity

Zinc salts are effective against pathogens. Viral gastroenteritis is slowed down by the ingestion of zinc due to direct antimicrobial action of the zinc ions in the GI tract. Zinc is the keystone molecule for thymic proteins, immune substances made in the thymus gland – no zinc, no immunity.

Zinc is my first choice for defense against the viruses that cause the common cold and garden-variety seasonal influenza. A review of the medical research on zinc from the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, a respected medical clearinghouse for medical studies from England, shows that common cold sufferers have a better option than chicken soup (here). Zinc even beats Vitamin C and Echinacea; the main stays of natural health advocates.

According to the Cochrane Review, when taken within 24 hours of the first symptoms of a cold (runny nose, headache, and sore throat – we all know what it feels like), zinc lozenges, tablets or capsules, or syrups can cut colds short by several days and sharply reduce the severity of symptoms (here). My clinical experience confirms zinc is the keystone to immune health.

The review found that not only did zinc reduce the duration and severity of common cold symptoms, but regular zinc use also worked to prevent colds, leading to fewer school absences and less antibiotic use in children.

Zinc Deficiency

Zinc is an essential mineral, and one of the few nutrients for which a number of people are mildly deficient. Zinc deficiency is especially common in adolescents, infants, seniors and women in general. Certain drugs may increase the need for zinc supplements, such as ACE inhibitors, thiazide diuretics and medications that reduce stomach acid (Prilosec or Pepcid). Increasing the intake of zinc-containing foods or taking zinc, either alone or in a multivitamin and mineral, may be a prudent form of nutritional insurance.

Those consuming primarily plant-based diets that are low in bioavailable zinc and high in phytic acid foods often have low level zinc deficiencies. The requirement for dietary zinc may be as much as 50% greater for strict vegetarians and vegans whose major food sources are grains and legumes because their high levels of phytic acid reduce zinc absorption.

Individuals at risk of zinc deficiency:

  • Infants and children
  • Pregnant and breast-feeding women
  • Patients receiving intravenous feedings
  • Malnourished individuals and anorexia nervosa
  • Severe or chronic diarrhea
  • Malabsorption syndromes including celiac disease
  • Inflammatory bowel disease including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis
  • Alcoholic liver disease (causes increased) urinary zinc excretion and low liver zinc levels
  • Sickle cell anemia
  • Adults 65 years and older
  • Strict vegetarians and vegans

Signs of severe zinc deficiency include hair loss, skin lesions, diarrhea, and wasting of body tissues. Eyesight, taste, smell and memory are connected with chronic zinc deficiency, as is acne. White spots on the fingernails can be an indication of zinc deficiency. Gradual depletion of zinc tissue stores or less than optimal dietary intake of bioavailable zinc can cause symptoms associated with chronic fatigue, frequent cold and flu, lack of muscle strength, and over all poor body function.

Children and women are particularly sensitive to zinc deficiency. Cognitive and motor function may be impaired in zinc deficient children. Zinc deficiency can interfere with many organ systems especially when it occurs during a time of rapid growth and development when nutritional needs are high, such as during infancy and is associated with increased emotionality, poor memory, and abnormal response to stress, which can interfere with performance in learning situations. Low maternal zinc status has been associated with less attention during the neonatal period and worse motor functioning.

Zinc deficiency is associated with anorexia. Zinc deficiency causes a decrease in appetite, which could degenerate in anorexia nervosa in emotionally susceptible individuals. Appetite disorders, in turn, cause inadequate zinc intake – a vicious cycle.

Getting Zinc From Food

Oysters have very high zinc content (about 8 mg of zinc per oyster). Other kinds of shellfish, organ meats, beef, pork and chicken are rich sources of zinc. Whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds provide zinc as well, but in small amounts ranging from 0.2 to about 3 mg per serving. However, the high phytic acid content of these foods reduces zinc’s availability. Cooking helps to reduce levels of phytic acid. Other food sources include fish, kelp, egg yolks, mushrooms, soybeans, and pumpkin seeds.

Zinc Toxicity

Taking too much zinc can be harmful. Excessive absorption of zinc can also suppress copper and iron absorption. However, it takes relatively high dosages over time to cause severe toxicity. The USDA RDA is 15 mg of zinc daily. It’s not recommended to take more than 120-150 mg of zinc daily, unless under the supervision of physician skilled in nutritional medicine, because of potential toxicity.

How to Take Your Zinc

As a dietary supplement, zinc is found in many forms, including zinc gluconate, zinc acetate, zinc citrate, zinc sulfate, zinc chelates, zinc carbonate, zinc orotate, and zinc picolinate (a bioavailable form of zinc).

Zinc experts say that many over-the-counter zinc products may not be as effective as those studied by researchers because commercial lozenges and syrups often are made with different formulations of zinc and various flavors and binders that prevent the release of zinc reducing effectiveness of the treatment.

For zinc to be effective against a cold, you have to take small amounts every 2-3 hours for at least four to five consecutive days. The average dose is 15 mg per dose for a total of 60-90 mg daily. Zinc also works for prevention during cold and flu season with a typical dose of 15-30 mg daily.

High intakes of calcium, iron and copper may limit zinc absorption. Drinking coffee when you take zinc may reduce absorption. The amino acids cysteine and methionine improve zinc absorption as does yeast found in leavened bread.

Zinc supplementation has been shown to provide positive support for:

  • Mild to moderate mood changes and depressed mood caused by everyday stress
  • Occasional overactive behaviors like nervousness and nervous tension
  • A lack of focus or mental clarity caused by stress
  • Lack of smell
  • Immunity
  • Reduce severity of the common cold

Bottom Line: Get enough zinc. Make zinc your favorite element, and don’t forget to take it zinc daily.

We want to know your thoughts: Do you take zinc? Why or why not?

Here’s How You Can Access Some of Dr. Williams’ Most Important Health Secrets and Protocols…

Dr. J. E. Williams has over 30 years of clinical experience in the natural health world and has had over 100,000 patient visits over that time.

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Dr. J. E. Williams


Dr. Williams is a pioneer in integrative and functional medicine, the author of six books, and a practicing clinician with over 100,000 patient visits. His areas of interest include longevity and viral immunity. Formerly from San Diego, he now resides in Sarasota, Florida and practices at the Florida Integrative Medical Center. He teaches at NOVA Southeastern University and Emperor’s College of Oriental Medicine.

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  1. I used to take zinc but then i kinda forgot to.. eating lots of soaked pumpkinseeds tho, and nuts and other fun things. Just took a blood test today – who knows, maybe i am deficient! we’ll see. 🙂
    great article btw!

  2. Brigida says:

    There is no need to cook to have zinc, you can just sprout the seeds. Not pumpkin though – they are toxic when sprouted.

  3. Dan Hegerich says:

    What are your thoughts about the Zinc Tally test for a general functional test for Zinc Levels? When I do the test I scale a 2 out of four means I could be moderately deficient. What would be consider safe dosages before one effects their Cu status? I heard 60-90mg per day for no more than 90 days. Also, some Zinc supplements do come with a small amount of Cu and would that safe guard against Cu depletion? There are Liquid ionic Zinc formula, would these be preferable over tablet? What about synergy between other minerals and vitamins? Is it optimal to take minerals with protein for maximum absorption due to HCL? What type and/or brand of Zinc do you recommend?

    Dan Hegerich
    Do The C.U.R.E.

  4. Theresa says:

    Thank you so much for taking the time, Dr. Williams, to write all of this information out for us. It’s been very helpful.
    I’ve been taking a zinc supplement for a couple of months due to deficiency and have already noted improvements! Is it safe to supplement 15mg of zinc ongoing in addition to having some of the food sources of zinc or should I do one or the other once my levels stabilize?

  5. Betoman says:

    I’ve taken the lozenges, the huge ones that George Ebe invented and for which he holds the patent as the Zinc cold cure! He’s a neighbor of mine in Dripping Springs, near Austin, TX. I used them once as directed, at the first sign of a cold and it worked really well. Another time, I started too late and it was ineffective. I have also used them for an immune boost if a cold is going around or when I travel during cold season, if I remember to bring them with me.

  6. An excellent article but Dr Williams does not talk about the best tests for zinc levels. I am not sure how accurate the oral zinc taste test is but with blood tests I have it on good authority that a white cell zinc test is a better indicator than testing serum levels.

  7. Jennifer says:

    I want answers to the comments, some of which are very good.

  8. barbara says:

    I take zinc for hypothyroid. I’m vegan.

    Dr. Williams,

    1. you mention many forms of zinc above: zinc gluconate, zinc acetate, zinc citrate, zinc sulfate, zinc chelates, zinc carbonate, zinc orotate, and zinc picolinate. (zinc in pumpkins seeds is which of these?)

    Is one form more absorbable and healthier than another?

    2. pill/capsule or powder best?

    3. to be taken with food or without?

    Thank you for your blog posts.

  9. Thanks for all your comments!

    And feel free to ask questions. We will be gathering them up and passing them over to Dr. Williams. Where 2x a month he will be doing a Q&A post 🙂

    Much Love,

  10. Jasmine says:

    Can you recommend a zing supplement to take daily if I don’t eat meat or much seafood?

  11. Jasmine says:

    *zinc, rather.

  12. wendy green says:

    love this man. and cute too !! but truly, great info and love his contributions!

  13. […] Note: Two weeks ago, Dr. Williams published an informative article about Zinc and Immunity. Today, he's going to answer specific questions that were brought up in the comments […]

  14. Coco says:

    Thanks for the article, very informative!

    BTW Pumpkin seeds are NOT toxic when sprouted. That’s the silliest thing I’ve read all day. If you can eat them raw they are no different sprouted. Kale seeds are toxic, sprouted dry kidney beans are toxic, sprouted soy beans are toxic, pumpkin seeds are fine.

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