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If You Take Zinc, Will Your Feet Not Stink?

Some readers suggest one way to fight foot odor: take zinc supplements for a little while. How well does that work?
If You Take Zinc, Will Your Feet Not Stink?
Vitamin C and Zinc – Orange flavored effervescent tablets to be dissolved in water

Do your feet smell bad? Many of the remedies for unpleasant foot odor are topical: soak the feet in a solution of baking soda, vinegar, Epsom salts or very strong tea. Any of those approaches may be quite helpful, but here is one that is less obvious: take zinc supplements. Readers share their personal experience below.

How to Combat Foot Odor:

Q. I read that zinc tablets could help control foot odor. My feet used to be really smelly, and I didn’t know what to do about this embarrassing problem.

Once I started taking zinc tablets every day, I no longer had stinky feet or shoes. I thought you would like to know this works.

A. We were surprised to learn that there is a medical term for smelly feet: bromodosis. We have not found any scientific studies of zinc supplements for this condition.

Socks for Stinky Feet:

However, researchers in Thailand recently published a randomized controlled trial of socks coated with zinc oxide nanoparticles (International Journal of Dermatology, online, March 4, 2021).  The naval cadets in the study had less foot odor if they wore coated socks.

We don’t know if zinc oxide cream, sold to prevent diaper rash, would prevent foot odor. Since zinc oxide-coated socks may not be easily available, that might be worth a try.

Zinc supplements are considered safe, but you should not exceed the tolerable upper limit of 40 mg/day for adults. Getting too much zinc could interfere with copper balance and impair immune function.

You can learn more about vitamin and mineral deficiencies and how to achieve optimal levels in the book, Fortify Your Life, by Dr. Tieraona Low Dog

Life-Long Smelly Foot Problem:

Q. When I was a child, I had sweaty feet. Taking off my shoes would clear the room. All through high school, I wore closed toe sandals most of the year.

In the 1970s, I worked in downtown Chicago, and commuted by train from a western suburb. Most of the winter, snow or slush on the ground meant I had to wear galoshes to protect my shoes. Train cars were heated with vents at the floor level, so the floor was almost hot. Needless to say, my feet did sweat.

The skin between my toes cracked and hurt. My toe pads were wrinkled and pure white, and of course my feet smelled bad.

I tried a lot of fixes, such as foot powder and a nightly foot bath. Nothing helped. The dermatologist prescribed a foot bath with some kind of purple medication that stained the feet. It was absolutely no help, either.

Time to Take Zinc?

Then I read in Prevention magazine that smelly feet with cracks between the toes and wrinkled white toe pads could be caused by a zinc deficiency.

I started taking zinc tablets. Within the first day, the cracks between my toes closed up and the pads were no longer white or wrinkled. By the third day, the feet were completely cleared up: no sign of wrinkled white toes, the cracks completely healed, and as a bonus, no stinky feet. After about two weeks of zinc tablets, I began to notice a metallic taste in my mouth and decided it was time to stop taking the zinc tablets.

That revelation came in the mid 1970s. Since then, whenever my feet begin to smell, I take zinc tablets for a couple of days. I hope you can add this to your wealth of resources of home cures.

A. You are not the first person to tell us that systemic zinc may help control unpleasant odors. A number of European cosmetic products contain zinc-containing compounds to aid with odor (Abendrot & Kalinowska-Lis, International Journal of Cosmetic Science, Aug. 2018). 

Don’t Overdose on This Mineral:

The NIH Office of Dietary Supplements suggests a daily intake of 9 mg of zinc for women and 11 mg for men. The “tolerable upper intake limit” is 40 mg. Be careful not to exceed the limit, as too much zinc can be dangerous.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
Citations
  • Ongsri P et al, "Effectiveness and safety of zinc oxide nanoparticle-coated socks compared to uncoated socks for the prevention of pitted keratolysis: a double-blinded, randomized, controlled trial study." International Journal of Dermatology, online, March 4, 2021. DOI: 10.1111/ijd.15512
  • Abendrot & Kalinowska-Lis, "Zinc-containing compounds for personal care applications." International Journal of Cosmetic Science, Aug. 2018. DOI: 10.1111/ics.12463
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