Zinc is an important mineral nutrient that is connected with a well-functioning immune system and higher levels of testosterone and other muscle-building hormones.
Depending on your diet, you probably aren't getting very much zinc naturally. Zinc supplements are a great way to ensure you have recommended levels of zinc in your body for stronger immune systems and improved muscle building.
Part 1 of this guide will rank the best zinc supplements on the market. After looking at the top 10 zinc supplements, Part 2 will go in-depth on how they work and why they are healthy.
1. Thorne Research Zinc Picolinate
Thorne Research specializes in offering supplements prepared with a little more care than your standard shelf-stocker at a pharmacy.
In the case of its zinc supplement, the company chose to supply the mineral in a chelated form. Chelation is an alternative to supplying a mineral salt which dissolves either in water or in your stomach acid.
A chelated form of a mineral is already surrounded by amino acids, making it easier for your body to absorb.
This means that the actual amount of zinc you get per serving is higher, even for equivalent amounts of the mineral in the chemical constituents of the tablet.
The zinc supplement from Thorne Research supplies 15 milligrams of zinc, which is 100% of your recommended daily intake.
This is a boon for people looking for more realistic zinc dosages; other competitors sometimes offer frustratingly high doses of zinc.
To top it off, Thorne Research contains within four percent of its label-claimed amount, according to independent analytical testing.
Though it’s in the wrong direction (less zinc than advertised), the amount lacking is so small that it’s trivial.
These factors combined make Thorne Research Zinc Picolinate a top choice if you are looking for quality.
The sole drawback is the higher cost per serving that’s inherent for a more carefully prepared supplement.
2. Nature’s Way Zinc Lozenges
While non-tablet or non-capsule forms of a standard vitamin or mineral are usually formulated for people who dislike swallowing pills, zinc lozenges have a specific application in mind.
Some scientific research suggests that taking a zinc lozenge during the early stages of an upper respiratory infection (i.e. a cold) can limit the duration of symptoms, albeit mildly (1).
It’s thought that part of how this works is direct delivery of dissolved zinc to your mouth and throat.
Though Nature’s Way also makes a standard zinc supplement in tablet form, the lozenge form is quite good.
It delivers a label-claimed 23 mg of zinc and lab testing determines that it comes within two percent of this value.
The formulation also includes vitamin C and Echinacea, a vitamin and an herbal supplement (respectively) that are thought to help prevent and speed recovery from upper respiratory infections, underscoring the utility of this supplement for dealing with the common cold.
One drawback to any lozenge is that you have to mask the astringent, bitter taste of zinc somehow. Nature’s Way does this with sorbitol and mannitol, two non-caloric sugar alcohols, along with fructose.
Purists might want to avoid it for this reason, though the other options for zinc lozenges have similar drawbacks.
3. Garden of Life Vitamin Code Raw Zinc
Garden of Life makes their name by offering vitamin and mineral supplements that derive their ingredients from real food sources.
Their Vitamin Code Raw Zinc supplement is no different: it delivers 15 mg of zinc and 30 mg of vitamin C per tablet (100% and 50% of your recommended daily intake, respectively), but alongside, it includes a raw blend of organic fruits and vegetables.
This raw blend is mostly recognizable plants: beets, apples, broccoli, Brussels sprout, and so on.
Thought this certainly raises the cost of the supplement, it means that you are deriving your zinc from totally natural sources.
Additionally, you are likely to get some additional benefit based on the phytonutrients, antioxidants, and other useful and nutritious extracts in the fruit and vegetable concentrates included in Garden of Life Vitamin Code Raw Zinc.
Amazingly, even though the zinc is derived from plant extracts instead of a lab-measured pure zinc salt, Garden of Life Vitamin Code Raw Zinc fares very well on purity tests.
Each tablet contains only a few percentage points more zinc than the label states, which indicates that this product is very well-made with careful quality control.
4. Metagenics Zinlori 75
Metagenics is a company that, until recently, made supplements that were very hard to buy unless you were referred directly by a medical professional.
Now, though, it's possible to buy their products over the counter no matter who you are. They do still carry an air of professionalism, communicated by their sleek and simplistic labeling.
The metagenics zinc formulation is an unusual chelated form known as zinc carnosine. Chelated forms of metallic minerals are usually easier to digest, but there's no specific independent research supporting this form of chelated zinc over any others.
Still, if other zinc supplements cause you stomach troubles, a chelated form like that offered in Metagenics Zinlori 75 is a good idea.
Each tablet contains 17 mg of zinc (107% of your recommended daily intake) and lab testing confirms this: each tablet actually contains, on average 17.6 mg of zinc, so well within an acceptable purity standard.
As we should expect from a more professionally designed supplement, there is little in the way of extra ingredients.
Aside from the zinc carnosine, the only other ingredients are cellulose, stearic acid, and silica.
5. Nature Made Zinc Tabs
The zinc tablets sold by Nature Made are a common sighting at major retailers across the country. They're inexpensive and each delivers 30 mg of zinc per serving, or 200% of your recommended daily intake.
The zinc is delivered in the form of zinc gluconate, which is good news considering the low cost of the supplement.
Often, less scrupulous supplement companies will use a cheaper formulation like zinc oxide, which can upset the stomach's acidity balance and is not as easily absorbed.
The supplement contains a few more binders and stabilizers than usual, but none of these ingredients raise any flags when it comes to their suspected safety.
Nature Made Zinc Tabs also do very well in purity testing. Lab testing found that they contain only 0.3 mg less than their label claims, meaning you are getting exactly what you pay for.
When it comes to differentiating these inexpensive and solid-quality supplements, it is hard to make a call one way or another.
Many of the well-made brands are functionally interchangeable with something as simple as a zinc supplement.
6. Pure Encapsulations Liquid Zinc
The zinc supplement offered by Pure Encapsulations, a smaller company, takes a different tack when it comes to this product: it's offered in a liquid form, as the name suggests.
The amber glass bottle comes with an eyedropper cap, which serves as the measuring device.
A serving is two full droppers of the liquid, which is flavored with apple and cranberry juice concentrates as well as stevia extract, a natural non-caloric sweetener.
Each serving provides 15 mg of zinc, which is 100% of your recommended daily intake.
The supplement does very well on purity tests: independent lab analysis shows that it contains within three percent of its label-stated amount.
The real challenge with Pure Encapsulations Liquid Zinc, however, is knowing how accurate each dropper-full is.
The independent lab testing only verifies the concentration of the solution; they're likely measuring it with a precision pipette.
You have to make do with the dropper. This may sway the amount of zinc per serving simply by adjusting how much liquid is delivered.
Still, this aside, it's very solid supplement choice. This is probably your best option if you don't like taking pills, or if you want to mix your zinc supplement in with a protein shake or smoothie.
7. Bulk Supplements Zinc Gluconate
Bulk Supplements has a tried and true philosophy: supply highly pure supplements at a low cost in a loose powder form, delegating measuring duties to the customer.
This results in an incredible value per dollar: for pennies a day, you can hit whatever zinc amount you need.
The major drawback for a supplement like zinc, whose recommended intake is so small (15 mg), is that you absolutely, positively, 100% must use a calibrated, high-quality micro scale to measure out your dosage.
Scoop based measurements will not cut it, and a high dose of zinc could be toxic.
For other supplements, the Bulk Supplements model works very well, but because it takes an analytical chemistry grade scale to accurately measure amounts on the 10 to 100 milligram scale, Bulk Supplements is not a practical solution for most people.
One situation in which it might be useful is for people who prepare large bulk servings of supplement mixes: say, if you mix up a month’s worth of post-workout protein shakes all at once. Otherwise, leave the measuring to the professionals.
8. Nature's Bounty Chelated Zinc
Although Nature's Bounty is a common brand at your local drug store, it is uncommon in that it offers its zinc in a very large dose and in a chelated form.
While your normal recommended daily intake of zinc is only 15 mg, each tablet of Nature's Bounty Chelated Zinc has 50 mg of zinc.
Though the zinc is nominally “chelated,” it's supplied in the form of zinc gluconate. Usually when vitamins are advertised as chelated, they are bound up with an amino acid. Nature's Bounty gets off on a technicality here.
Nevertheless, the product does well on purity testing, delivering an actual 53.3 mg of zinc per tablet according to independent lab studies.
The other ingredients are pretty unremarkable, just the usual blend of stabilizers and binding agents.
Though the value in terms of dollars per serving of zinc is good, there are probably better choices out there. Unless you know for sure you need a large dose of zinc, 50 mg is probably overkill.
9. Good State Ionic Zinc
Good state ionic zinc takes an interesting approach to their supplement. It's supplied in liquid form, meaning that it's easier for you to mix it in with a protein shake or a smoothie.
It's not flavored with anything either, so you can expect a mildly astringent or acidic taste if you drink it straight-up.
Each serving provides 18 mg in the form of “ionic zinc,” which is really just a fancy term for zinc lacto-gluconate dissolved in highly pure water.
Its purity is good, coming within three percent of its label-claimed amount of zinc per serving, but Good State suffers from the same problem as other liquid supplements—how do you accurately measure them?
A “serving” might be 2.5 milliliters, but given that your only measuring device is eyeballing half the bottle cap, the uncertainty with this kind of measurement is going to be pretty high.
The specialized preparation drives up the cost of this supplement too, although one bottle does contain almost 100 servings.
It's an okay choice if you definitely want a liquid zinc supplement, but otherwise, stick to tablets or capsules.
10. Now Foods Zinc Gluconate
If you are looking for an inexpensive, fairly pure zinc supplement in an easily digested salt form, look no further than Now Foods Zinc Gluconate.
It may not be the flashiest on the market but it’s a reliable buy; it’s the number one seller on Amazon.com for a reason.
Each plant cellulose tablet contains 50 mg of zinc in the form of zinc gluconate, which is 333% of your recommended daily intake.
Though chelated forms are likely more bioavailable (i.e. easy for your body to absorb), the gluconate form does just fine.
It’s not alkaline like zinc oxide (used in cheap, low-quality supplements: the oxide form forces your body to use stomach acid to make the zinc absorbable, which can cause digestive issues in some people), and it’s very soluble in water.
Now Foods Zinc Gluconate does well on purity testing too. Independent laboratory analysis found that each tablet contains just nine percent more zinc than its label-claimed amount.
Some people looking for a lower dose will use a pill-splitting device to halve the zinc content, but be aware that this will drastically increase the inaccuracy of the dose.
It may be better to go for a supplement with a lower amount of zinc per serving instead.
Part 2: What are zinc supplements and what do they do for you?
Zinc is a vital mineral that your body uses for everything from boosting its immune system to producing hormones.
Its two main uses as a supplement are attacking infections, like the common cold, and keeping your testosterone at a healthy level.
Having healthy testosterone levels is important for men, who suffer from fatigue, loss of muscle mass, and loss of virility when they have low levels of testosterone in their blood. This is a natural consequence of aging, and as we'll soon see, can be counteracted at least partially by taking a zinc supplement
Benefits of zinc supplements
On the illness front, zinc is a popular way to boost your immunity against getting sick, and a way to decrease your recovery time if you do come down with a mild illness.
Scientific research has found that zinc may effectuate some illness-preventing and immune-boosting functions.
One study among infant and preschool children (who, as any parent knows, get sick all the time) found that supplementing a child's diet with 10 mg of zinc could decrease the incidence of getting sick, albeit by a moderate amount (2).
The study followed over six hundred children for six months, with half the children receiving a 10 mg daily zinc supplement and the other half receiving a placebo pill.
Halfway into the study, the researchers checked the children's blood levels to make sure the zinc tablets were working.
Indeed, the proportion of children who had low blood levels of zinc dropped markedly—from 36% at the study's outset to under 12% halfway through the study.
After the results were tabulated, the researchers calculated that the zinc supplementation did have a measurable impact on illness rates. After controlling for other variables, the estimated reduction in risk of illness was 45%.
That's a pretty good figure for just taking a supplement every day, but it also underscores that a lot more goes in to determining whether or not you get sick: even if your zinc intake is great, you are still going to get sick sometimes.
Not all the results are as ringing of an endorsement, though. When it comes to speeding recovery from illness, zinc might have a tiny effect, but it's not very big.
A 1989 study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine split 174 patients with a diagnosed upper respiratory infection into two groups (2).
The first group received a zinc lozenge that delivered 23 mg of zinc and took it every two hours while awake, and the placebo group did the same thing, except (unknowingly) with a lozenge that did not contain any zinc.
The test subjects were asked to rate their symptoms periodically throughout the study.
The study found that, although there were some small differences over the course of the study (the zinc group felt about 13% better than the control group on day 7 of the infection, for example), these differences were small and not statistically significant.
Once you do get sick, it doesn't seem like zinc is going to help a whole lot.
One other area where zinc is useful is in keeping your testosterone levels high. A 1996 study by researchers at the University of Michigan and Harvard Medical School tracked the relationship between zinc levels in the body and testosterone in a group of 40 men (3).
The researchers measured testosterone levels in the blood and compared them to zinc levels measured inside samples of cells from the men's bodies.
They found that zinc concentration was positively associated with testosterone levels—meaning the higher the concentration of zinc in your body, the higher your testosterone levels are.
This is great news for any men who want an easy way to boost their muscle mass, feel more energetic, and have greater libido.
Taking this study a step further, the researchers gave a zinc supplement to a group of marginally zinc-deficient elderly men for six months. The researchers observed a distinct increase in testosterone levels—in fact, they almost doubled!
The team of scientists also tested the converse of this experiment—they fed a group of young men a zinc-restricted diet over the course of 20 weeks, and observed exactly what we'd expect: concentrations of testosterone in the blood plummeted by a factor of four.
What this tells us is that zinc is critical for keeping your testosterone levels high. Fortunately, taking a zinc supplement is both inexpensive and easy to do.
Side effects of zinc supplements
Zinc, as a natural mineral that's a part of any standard diet, is pretty slim when it comes to short-term side effects.
However, there is some concern that chronic zinc overload can increase your risk for prostate cancer.
According to a scientific brief published in 2003 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, men who took over 100 mg of zinc per day had about twice the normal rate of prostate cancer compared with men who took less than 100 mg per day (4).
An important point is that this is supplemental zinc intake, not total zinc intake.
It would take some very intense zinc supplement dosing to reach 100 mg per day. Remember, the recommended daily intake is only 15 mg per day, so even several times higher than that should still be safe.
Happily, there's no real reason to take ultra-high zinc dosages, because the scientific research shows that much more moderate does are plenty effective.
The research study on elderly men, for example, showed that a dose of only 30 mg of supplemental zinc per day (200% of your recommended daily intake) can double your testosterone levels if you are marginally zinc deficient.
Other research uses similarly small values (5). Based on this information, a supplemental dose of at least 10 mg but no more than 30 mg per day seems appropriate.
Zinc appears to be a modestly effective immune system booster, but where it really shines is helping keep your testosterone levels high.
If you want to help build muscle, have more energy, and increase your libido, taking a zinc supplement might be just what you need.