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11.4: Zinc

  • Page ID
    139703
  • Zinc is a cofactor for over two hundred enzymes in the human body and plays a direct role in RNA, DNA, and protein synthesis. Zinc also is a cofactor for enzymes involved in energy metabolism. As the result of its prominent roles in anabolic and energy metabolism, a zinc deficiency in infants and children blunts growth. The reliance of growth on adequate dietary zinc was discovered in the early 1960s in the Middle East where adolescent nutritional dwarfism was linked to diets containing high amounts of phytate. Cereal grains and some vegetables contain chemicals, one being phytate, which blocks the absorption of zinc and other minerals in the gut. It is estimated that half of the world’s population has a zinc-deficient diet.[1]

    This is largely a consequence of the lack of red meat and seafood in the diet and reliance on cereal grains as the main dietary staple. In adults, severe zinc deficiency can cause hair loss, diarrhea, skin sores, loss of appetite, and weight loss. Zinc is a required cofactor for an enzyme that synthesizes the heme portion of hemoglobin and severely deficient zinc diets can result in anemia.

    Dietary Reference Intakes for Zinc

    Table 11.4 Dietary Reference Intakes for Zinc

    Age Group RDA (mg/day) UL (mg/day)
    Infant (0–6 months) 2* 4
    Infants (6–12 months) 3 5
    Children (1–3 years) 3 7
    Children (4–8 years) 5 12
    Children (9–13 years) 8 23
    Adolescents (14–18 years) 11 (males), 9 (females) 34
    Adults (19 + years) 11 (males), 8 (females) 40
    * denotes Adequate Intake

    Fact Sheet for Health Professionals: Zinc. National Institute of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/. Updated February 11, 2016. Accessed November 10, 2017.

    Dietary Sources of Zinc

    Table 11.5 Zinc Content of Various Foods

    Food Serving Zinc (mg) Percent Daily Value
    Oysters 3 oz. 74 493
    Beef, chuck roast 3 oz. 7 47
    Crab 3 oz. 6.5 43
    Lobster 3 oz. 3.4 23
    Pork loin 3 oz. 2.9 19
    Baked beans ½ c. 2.9 19
    Yogurt, low fat 8 oz. 1.7 11
    Oatmeal, instant 1 packet 1.1 7
    Almonds 1 oz. 0.9 6

    Fact Sheet for Health Professionals: Zinc. National Institute of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/. Updated February 11, 2016. Accessed November 10, 2017.


    1. Prasad, Ananda. “Zinc deficiency.” BMJ 2003 February 22; 326(7386): 409–410. doi: 10.1136/bmj.326.7386.409. Accessed October 2, 2011. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1125304/?tool=pmcentrez.