Your Questions Answered on Zinc and the Immune System : Dr. J. E. Williams Q & A

Friday Apr 1 | BY |
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pumpkin seeds high in zinc
Can you name some other sources of zinc?

Resident Medical Authority: J. E. Williams, OMD, FAAIM

[Kev’s 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 area!]

QUESTION: 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?

ANSWER: The short answer is yes, 15 mg of supplemental zinc on top of what you get from food is safe to take every day. Here’s my longer response about daily use of zinc. The RDA recommended daily amount for zinc is 11 mg for adult men and 8 mg for women, which increases to 12 mg during pregnancy and lactation. These levels assure sufficient amounts to prevent major zinc deficiency conditions, including stunted growth. According to the Linus Pauling Institute at the University of Oregon, zinc nutritional requirement is 15 mg daily. Optimal nutrition proponents, such as Naturopathic Physicians, believe that zinc needs may be as high as 30-45 mg daily, and for the treatment of cold, flu, and to improve thymus function in immune deficiency syndromes, even higher amounts are needed.

QUESTION: What is the best way to test your zinc level?

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.

ANSWER: There is no perfect way to get an accurate measurement of your zinc requirement. However, there are tests that provide reasonable clues including the oral taste challenge test, serum levels, and red and white cell levels.

  • Zinc Taste Test: A standard test solution of zinc sulphate is for tasting and comparing the response to defined standards. This is a 10-second test and can be done at home or in the doctor’s office. No taste at all indicates severe zinc deficiency, and strong taste suggests no deficiency. Though thee assessment of zinc by taste perception is very subjective and cannot be considered scientifically accurate, it’s quick and easy and useful for a general idea of your zinc status.

  • Zinc Serum Test: This blood test helps evaluate exposure to toxic levels of zinc and suspected nutritional inadequacy. Levels may be low in fever, sepsis, estrogen therapy, stress, or myocardial infarction. Useful for general clinical screening.

  • Zinc in Red and White Blood Cells: These tests provide an estimate of zinc tissue levels. Subnormal levels are associated with alcoholic cirrhosis, cystic fibrosis, myocardial infarction, and acute and chronic infections. High levels may be due to industrial exposure. Cell levels are more useful as a measure of zinc nutritional status.

QUESTION: What forms of Zinc are best?

ANSWER: Zinc supplements come in various forms, as zinc salts or complexes like amino acid chelates. Zinc sulfate is the least expensive form, but zinc acetate, gluconate, citrate, or picolinate may be better absorbed. Naturopathic physicians and clinical nutritionist prefer the picolinate form. Zinc can be taken in a capsule, as a tablet, or in chewable or liquid forms. As a daily supplement, take with food. For treatment of cold and flu, take away from food for better absorption.

What about pumpkin seeds? Are they a good dietary source of zinc?

ANSWER: That depends on the soil, or fertilizer practices of the farmer, zinc content. Pumpkin seeds are a great healthy snack, and they are good for you, but to get the RDA for zinc you would have to eat almost a cup of seeds a day. 1 ounce (8 ounces = 1 cup) supplies 2 mg of zinc.

What is the difference between whole food supplements and pharmaceutical grade? Can the body deal with PG as easily and effectively as whole food sources?

ANSWER: Pharmaceutical grade has far greater bio-availability and being bio-identical molecules, the body deals with them easily and therefore with much greater effectiveness. We know from good research that real, live, whole foods contain low doses of nutrients in complex forms that make them ideal for bodily processes including epigenomic positive gene expression. However, translating the fact that eating whole foods is good for you to putting dried up food, or laboratory grown yeast, into a capsule is just not the same as the original food. Processing takes the life out of the product and they oxidize rapidly, so once you open the bottle and the contents are exposed to air, like an apple on the counter, food grade vitamins lose potency fast. Remember, a whole food, low potency supplement is good for general wellness, but typically not strong enough to treat a health condition.

Eat a primarily plant-based whole food diet. For supplements, stay with whole food sources from a reputable company for your basic daily needs. Use proven food source supplements or pharmaceutical grade for treatment and corrective therapy when needed, in a dosage that is appropriate for your age, gender, and condition.


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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. RW says:

    Here is a good list of sources of Zinc:
    Food Sources of Zinc:
    Black-eyed peas, cooked
    Brazil nuts
    Brewer’s yeast
    Cheddar cheese
    Chick-peas, cooked
    Lentils, cooked
    Lima beans
    Oats, rolled
    Organ meats
    Peanuts, roasted
    Peas, cooked
    Pumpkin seeds
    Soy lecithin
    Soybeans, cooked
    Sunflower seeds
    Swiss cheese
    Torula yeast
    Wheat germ & bran
    Whole grains

    Herb Sources of Zinc:
    Burdock root
    Fennel seed
    Milk thistle
    Rose hips
    Wild yam

  2. oreganol says:

    Excellent article. The use of pharmacetical grade supplements is rarely discussed. This means that many people waste their money on low-quality shop bought supplements, so of which are completely useless.

    It would be good if you could cover this issue in more depth in an upcoming video or blog post.

  3. Andrew N says:

    Kev and others, check this out, according to the “Founder of the National Centre for Eating Disorders http//” anyone with the following conditions has an eating disorder. I have posted my reply, being as polite as possible in order to pro-actively try to convince her that she has the wrong idea.

    Here is what she says :-

    The following questions might help you know if you or a loved one has the condition of “Orthorexia”

    • Do you spend a great deal of time studying facts about food or food and health?
    • Do you read a lot of books or visit websites about diets or healthy eating plans?
    • Have you eliminated certain foods or food groups from your diet. If so, which?
    • Is your diet solely organic?
    • Would you describe yourself as interested, or obsessed about eating healthy food?
    • Do you eat flexibly or do you have to plan your eating?
    • If you were stuck somewhere and only unhealthy food was available, would you be able to eat it just once?
    • Would you feel extremely guilty or anxious about eating foods on your forbidden list?
    • Do you feel superior because of your eating choices or restraint?
    • Does eating differently from others enable you to feel special?
    • Do you have bad feelings about eating out, at social occasions where you cannot control the food?
    • Do you refuse social invitations because you do not wish to eat the food?
    • Do you feel that avoiding certain food groups (like carbohydrate) will help you control your weight?
    • Are there foods that you think are bad to your health or bad for you – other than foods generally acknowledged as unhealthy or fattening such as “chips?”

    here is her blog :-

  4. Andrew N says:

    I have to add she thinks cutting out dairy or wheat or trying to get the ideal balance of protein/carbs/fat – gives you this condition. She says that such people often have underlining mental health problems. She says she is treating people with these problems and sees it all too often in her job as an eating disorder specialist!

  5. Andrew N says:

    For myself following a healthy diet is an interest I have, and I consider it a healthy one (forgive the pun). The benefits outweigh any disadvantages.

    If she or a friend sadly gets cancer, or just feels run down, she would probably not even connect it to her diet.

  6. Coco says:

    Thanks again for a wonderful article on Zinc. All great points to think on.

  7. Mario S says:

    Thanks for this wonderful data on Zinc. Wow, I’ve been using 30 mg. Zinc with 2 mg Copper by Nature’s Life for 3 years now and take it AM and PM plus I add another capsule at noon if stressed or weak or ill. This has controlled my fever blisters well but I still find great success using MMS1, AKA Sodium Chlorite, to purify my body’s water, this has healed most all ailments for me in addition to the wonderful Raw Organic plant products we get from Kevin and Annemarie etc.
    You are all such helpful lights for us, yes we can discover the way to health for ourselves but it’s easier to hear what others have found that works too. Thanks, Courage and love to you all, Mario.

  8. Selina says:

    Kevin has already talked about orthorexia 🙂

    And yeah, I too think that it’s quite silly to say that one has a disorder if one is not following the mainstream suicidal way of eating.

    We really need people who get to the bottom line on nutrition, because right now we are all quite lost out there because following conventional guidelines is not getting us anywhere anymore.

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