The People's Perspective on Medicine

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.
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. A reader shares his experience.

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 When You Take Zinc:

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. .
Smelly Feet
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Citations
  • 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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My son’s feet stink he has a disease call neurofibromatosis, and I also have it. His feet will run you out of the room. So I will get some zinc for home but now I’m aware of the amount. Thanks. God bless and have a blessed night.

Zinc healed me of horrible menstrual periods that I had until I was in my 30s. 10-11 days of extremely heavy flow, nausea, sweats, and chills. I had no idea other women didn’t struggle like this. A month of zinc brought them to a normal level, and as a bonus eliminated little white spots that had been on my fingernails since I was a little girl. When I missed a month of zinc in that first year, both effects came back. I only needed the smallest dose, and after a couple of years, I was able to eliminate it with neither issue returning. I did have stinky feet as a teen, and eventually that went away, but I don’t know if zinc was involved.

Similar, but in a different way: Zinc ointment (preferably 40%, the type used for diaper rash) helps not only those toe-skin problems, but even the toe-nail ones, if used persistently for long time. Zinc is a powerful fungus killer.

My ex had the stinkiest feet. Then he learned to use topical antibiotic solution on his feet, and the stink went away.

After months of smelly feet when I finished a run, I read about a trick to eliminate the odors. Just put a little hand sanitizer on the bottom of your feet before you put on your sneakers. No more odors!

I am glad you gave a strong warning to your readers about taking too much zinc. I am just out of the hospital for over-dosing on zinc in an effort to ward off a cold. I took two 50 mg of zinc, and within 15 minutes my stomach was burning up. I was vomiting, sweating profusely, and then came the diarrhea. The emergency vehicle was called. I have never been so ill in my life. I was hospitalized for 24 hours, and it took about 3 or 4 days before my body completely recovered.

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