Zinc is an essential nutrient that has many health benefits, including helping to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression for some people.

Many factors can contribute to feelings of anxiety and depression. While stress, hormones, or genetics often play a role in these feelings, diet can also affect our mood.

Not getting enough specific minerals and nutrients can throw a wrench in how we feel. This includes getting enough zinc in our daily diet.

Zinc is essential for physical function, but it may also play a role in mental wellness. Maintaining adequate zinc levels can improve your overall well-being, helping you feel healthier and happier.

Zinc is crucial for brain growth and development and several other body functions, including:

  • immune function
  • protein synthesis
  • DNA synthesis
  • wound healing
  • cellular health
  • general growth and development

The body can’t produce or store zinc on its own, so it must come from your diet or supplements.

Zinc is generally obtained through a variety of plant and animal foods. Foods that don’t have zinc naturally, such as baking flour and snack bars, often contain synthetic forms of zinc.

You can also find supplements with zinc.

Because zinc plays a role in immune function, it can also be found in various cold medications, lozenges, and nasal sprays.

Zinc not only plays an essential role in the way our immune system functions, but it also affects our neural (aka brain) processes, according to a 2017 study. The study also links zinc and specific hormones or neurotransmitters — namely our “happiness” hormones, serotonin, and dopamine.

According to a 2021 study, zinc does this by helping elevate levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in the areas of our brain that control our emotions. When zinc is in low supply, BDNF levels drop, and so does our mood.

Other research supports this, finding ties between zinc and anxiety across different groups of people:

  • A 2011 study suggests that low levels of zinc may lead to lower gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) levels in the brain — a neurotransmitter that blocks specific signals to reduce fear, worry, and stress. Zinc supplementation can help raise levels of GABA, thereby improving symptoms of anxiety.
  • A 2019 study found that regular use of multivitamin mineral supplements may improve anxiety in young adults between ages 18 and 24.
  • In a 2019 study of Japanese workers, mental health conditions and diet were linked, with researchers concluding that low levels of zinc, magnesium, and copper contributed to feelings of depression and anxiety for workers.
  • A 2020 study suggests that zinc deficiency in older adults was tied to higher rates of depression and anxiety. A 2021 study of this age group showed that using zinc supplements significantly reduced signs and symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Studies have also linked low levels of zinc and depression.

A 2017 review reported that several studies found a link between lower levels of zinc and depression. It also found that adding zinc supplementation in combination with other treatments may help improve symptoms of depression.

According to a 2011 review, zinc may improve signs of depression or mood disorder because it helps reduce inflammation, inhibiting brain function and cognitive performance.

When our bodies get enough zinc, inflammation is reduced or eliminated, and our immune and brain systems can function at peak levels, which all contribute to a healthier body and mind.

Maintaining healthy zinc levels can have a positive impact on your overall physical and mental well-being.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), besides reducing symptoms of anxiety, zinc may also help:

  • support immune function
  • promote wound healing
  • treat or prevent chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and metabolic syndrome
  • prevent age-related macular degeneration or vision loss
  • promote sexual health
  • treat diarrhea
  • maintain healthy skin
  • treat acne
  • prevent osteoporosis
  • reduce common cold symptoms
  • treat neurological symptoms
  • boost cognitive function
  • reduce inflammation
  • lower risk of infection

How much zinc do I need?

The appropriate amount of zinc you should be getting each day generally depends on your age and gender.

The recommended dietary amount (RDA) is as follows:

  • Adult men: 11 mg
  • Adult women: 8 mg
  • Teen boys (ages 14 – 18): 11 mg
  • Teen girls (ages 14 – 18): 9 mg
  • Children (under age 13*): 2 mg – 8 mg

The RDA of zinc for women who are pregnant or nursing may be higher, so it’s important to talk with your doctor about how much you need.

*Babies and children need less zinc than teens and adults. Talk with your child’s pediatrician for more information and to make sure your child is getting the right amount for their age.

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There are multiple ways to get your recommended daily amount of zinc. The easiest is through diet. Many foods contain enough zinc to meet your RDA, and they’re likely items you already eat regularly.

Zinc-rich foods include:

  • red meat
  • fish and seafood such as crabs and oysters
  • poultry
  • nuts and seeds
  • beans, chickpeas, lentils, and other legumes
  • certain vegetables such as mushrooms, asparagus, and kale
  • eggs
  • milk and other dairy products
  • whole grains
  • certain fortified foods such as breakfast cereals and snack bars

Supplements are another way to get your daily dose of zinc, particularly if your diet isn’t cutting it.

Zinc supplements can be especially helpful for those who have or are at chance of having zinc deficiency. According to NIH, this can include:

  • people with gastrointestinal diseases such as Crohn’s disease
  • women who are pregnant or nursing
  • vegetarians or vegans
  • people with sickle cell anemia
  • older infants who are exclusively nursing
  • people with chronic kidney disease
  • those who misuse alcohol

There are several types of zinc supplements, and they can come in various formats, including capsules, tablets, liquids, and even topicals.

Dosage can depend on your current diet and zinc levels, so you may consider speaking with your doctor before adding a zinc supplement to your routine. They can recommend specific types and amounts tailored to your needs.

Getting too much or too little zinc can lead to some serious — and seriously unpleasant — side effects.

Nearly 1 billion people worldwide have some level of zinc deficiency due to not having enough zinc in their diet, according to a 2015 study. While more severe cases are rare, not getting enough zinc can still wreak havoc on your health.

Zinc deficiency can cause:

  • weakened immune system
  • cold symptoms
  • skin rash
  • skin ulcers
  • weight fluctuations
  • diarrhea
  • poor concentration
  • hair loss
  • vision problems
  • breathing problems

A 2017 review also suggests that low zinc levels can increase your chance of contracting infections, including pneumonia, malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV.

Getting too much zinc can also create issues, including toxicity. Zinc toxicity can be serious and can cause various acute or chronic side effects, such as:

  • cramps
  • diarrhea
  • changes in appetite
  • changes in cholesterol levels
  • weakened immune function
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • headaches

High levels of zinc are often caused by supplement use. Figuring out supplement dosage can be tricky because you also need to account for the zinc you’re getting through your diet. Taking too much zinc can increase your levels and lead to toxicity.

A 2015 study shows that too much zinc can also affect how your body absorbs copper and iron — two other essential minerals. Excessive amounts of zinc can even lead to a copper deficiency.

Zinc can also interfere with the effectiveness of some medications, including antibiotics and diuretics.

Zinc is an essential nutrient that supports many of our body’s functions, including immune function, cellular health, and certain brain functions.

It can also affect our mood, with zinc deficiencies often linked to anxiety and depression. By maintaining proper zinc levels, we can help improve our overall well-being.

Because our bodies don’t produce zinc, it must come through outside sources, such as diet or supplements.

It’s crucial to be cautious when using zinc supplements — it can be easy to overdo it. This can lead to zinc toxicity, which can cause immune issues, cramping, and changes in your cholesterol.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression, consider speaking with a healthcare or mental health professional.

They can work with you to determine whether a zinc deficiency is behind how you feel or whether there’s another underlying cause. They can then help you develop a treatment plan tailored to your unique needs.