The People's Perspective on Medicine

Think Zinc for Better Blood Sugar Control

Did you know that zinc is a really important mineral? It is especially crucial for blood sugar management. Many vegetarians could well be low in zinc.
Foods High in Zinc. Healthy diet concept.

Zinc is not one of the sexy minerals. Doctors and patients are far more interested in calcium, potassium and magnesium. But we think zinc is an unrecognized hero that often gets short shrift. This mineral has a profound impact on how genes are expressed in our bodies. It is essential during pregnancy for proper fetal development. This nutrient is also crucial for a healthy immune system. People with low levels of zinc may be more susceptible to infection. It is also important for wound healing. In addition, zinc plays a critical role in the production and utilization of insulin.

Supplements and Blood Sugar:

A meta-analysis of 32 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) involving 1,700 participants from 14 countries found that zinc supplements can help with blood sugar control (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, online, June 4, 2019).

The authors pointed out that:

“A growing body of evidence supports an association between hyperglycemia and zinc metabolism. For example, many studies have provided evidence that low zinc status is associated with impaired insulin secretion, decreased insulin sensitivity, and increased inflammatory biomarkers, including IL-6, TNF-α, and high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP).”

Patients with diabetes are more likely to have lower levels of zinc and more difficulty controlling their blood sugar levels. To summarize, the beta cells in the pancreas don’t work as efficiently to make insulin when zinc levels are depressed.

Zinc and Cholesterol!

The investigators also noted:

“Results from previous meta-analyses suggest that zinc supplementation may exert a favorable effect on several plasma lipid parameters, including significantly reduced concentrations of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides.”

What The Study Discovered:

The authors of this meta-analysis of placebo-controlled trials think zinc supplementation can be helpful “in preventing and managing diabetes.”

Their observations:

“The results of our meta-analysis show that zinc supplementation can modulate glycemic control both in diabetic patients and in patients with a high risk of developing diabetes. Specifically, we found that zinc supplementation alone is associated with reduced blood glucose concentrations, increased insulin sensitivity, decreased nonenzymatic glycosylation, and reduced inflammation in these subjects.”

Those are all desirable outcomes.

The authors conclude:

“Taken together, these results indicate that zinc supplementation may be used as an adjunct therapy for preventing or managing diabetes.”

Join over 150,000 subscribers at The People's Pharmacy

How Much Zinc?

The authors did not provide recommendations about the amount of zinc people should consider. We always suggest that this should be a conversation with a knowledgeable health professional.

More Evidence Urging You to Think Zinc:

Another international meta-analysis included 20 randomized controlled trials with 1,141 participants receiving zinc supplements (Biological Trace Element Research, online Sep. 7, 2019). These scientists discovered that people taking zinc supplements had lower blood levels of triglycerides, VLDL cholesterol and total cholesterol. In addition, they had lower levels of fasting blood glucose and HbA1c, a critical measure of blood sugar over time. Because this was a meta-analysis, the investigators did not identify an amount of zinc that is optimal for supplements.

Should You Be Taking Supplements? 

If you are not getting adequate zinc in your diet, you might do well to consider a supplement. Consider how often you eat foods rich in zinc such as shellfish.

Zinc in Foods:

According to our dear friend, Tieraona Low Dog, MD, oysters get the very highest marks for zinc, followed by red meat and chicken. Vegetarians may need supplements to get adequate levels of this mineral.

According to Dr. Low Dog:

“Vegetarians may need 50 percent more zinc than those with mixed diets, as the zinc in plants is more difficult to absorb due to the presence of phytic acid.”

Other foods rich in this nutrient include Alaskan king crab, lobster, baked beans, pumpkin seeds, yogurt, cashews and chickpeas (NIH Office of Dietary Supplements). 

Zinc Supplements:

The RDA (recommended dietary allowance) for zinc in men is 11 mg and for women is 8 mg. Dr. Low Dog advises against exceeding the upper limit of 40 mg. Too much of this mineral can affect iron function, impact the immune system negatively and lower good HDL cholesterol. 

If you shop for supplements, you will see different forms, including zinc gluconate, zinc sulfate, and zinc acetate. While each of these salts contains varying amounts of elemental zinc, we don’t have good research to tell us whether one is preferable to another.

You Might Be Low in Zinc If You Are Taking Certain Drugs:

Most people don’t think about how medications can alter their need for certain nutrients. We suspect that many health professionals are unaware of such problems either. Dr. Low Dog has a magnificent appendix at the back of her book called Drug-Nutrient Depletions and Interactions. In it, she notes that ACE inhibitor blood pressure pills like benazepril, captopril, enalapril and lisinopril can deplete the body of zinc. So can ARBs such as valsartan. Diuretics like hydrochlorothiazide can also lower levels of this mineral.

You can read more about vitamins and minerals and how medications alter levels of crucial nutrients in Dr. Low Dog’s fabulous book, Fortify Your LIFE: Your Guide to Vitamins, Minerals and More. Here is a link  to the paperback edition

Rate this article
4.5- 120 ratings
About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
Fortify Your Life: Your Guide to Vitamins, Minerals, and More

Fortify Your Life gives you the evidence-based information you need to decide whether you need a supplement and which format and dose would be best.

Fortify Your Life: Your Guide to Vitamins, Minerals, and More
  • Wang, X., et al, "Zinc supplementation improves glycemic control for diabetes prevention and management: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials," American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, online, June 4, 2019, DOI: 10.1093/ajcn/nqz041
  • Khazdouz M et al, "Effects of zinc supplementation on cardiometabolic risk factors: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials." Biological Trace Element Research, online Sep. 7, 2019. DOI: 10.1007/s12011-019-01870-9
Join over 150,000 Subscribers at The People's Pharmacy

We're empowering you to make wise decisions about your own health, by providing you with essential health information about both medical and alternative treatment options.

Showing 16 comments
Add your comment

This was not mentioned in this article but when I researched zinc, I found that it should be used with extreme caution if you have a seizure disorder.

I googled: “Zinc might be an important nutrient, but it can raise the risk of seizures when it gets into the brain, according to new research Texas A&M scientists published this week in the Journal of Neuroscience. … “Zinc is released with neural activity to alter the tone of neuronal communications,” Reddy said.Aug 4, 2016”

I had read about zinc and blood sugar levels in a book called The end of Alzheimer’s by Dr Dale Bredesen. My husband took the Zinc and copper ratio test. He was low on zinc. Dr recommended zinc cheats (Douglas Labs). He has just taken a repeat test to check levels. Blood sugar has come down by about 20 points. Need doctor to check levels.

As Burt mentioned, the name brand supplement I have comes in a 50mg caplet. Fortunately, the oblong shape allows me to put it in a pill splitter and cut it in half. Then I take one-half caplet every other day. Not perfect, but it gets the supplemental dosage down to ~12mg per day when spread over an entire month.

Please explain what our metabolism does. As we get older does it change? I think that is happening to me, and I don’t understand what my body is doing. Thank you.

Metabolism just means the way your body processes energy. It can indeed change with age, health, diet, activity and other factors. Many women notice a change following menopause.

Zinc supplementation needs to be balanced with copper in the right ratio to prevent issues and imbalances

I very much appreciate this inspirng article about controlling blood sugar levels in Diabates.

ZnO is well known as an antibacterial cream for skin diseases,used externally for a long time.
It is highly essential to study in depths its absorption and assimilation and to optimise its minimum and maximum concentration levels.This requires innumerable case studies / trials on humanbeings . It can be achieved on proper formulation of Zn in its acceptable compunds or complexes by human body, iunder supervision and consultation with physicians and research scientists.

The study of easily assimable nano size materials of Zn metal and Zn complexes may prove highly beneficial. At the same, critical study on effects of probable interactions of Zn and other essential elements along with generation of various human body-hormones and secretions involving at various intervals, during day-night time is a challenging but highly essential task.

Meat and chicken may be high on zinc, but carnivores are high on diabetes, so …

Would love to know more about zinc, and its effect on type 2 diabetes. It sounds so promising!

The vegan food highest in zinc is achinacea, next is wheat germ, followed by oats.

That is not all Zinc does. I used to get olfactory hallucinations-at least that is what i call smelling something that isn’t there. 25mg zinc per day controls it. Stop the zinc the smells return. I am a vegetarian.

Very happy to read a new perspective on Zinc and how it could affect diabetes.

Interesting article, but I read with some concern as there was a fairly recent study done in Washington D.C. indicating dietary zinc may cause an increased incidence of prostate cancer in African-American males.

I would love to know more about zinc because
am one those who have this condition.

Those who did the zinc study need a reality check. Info on dosage to get the optimal benefits is needed by physicians and the public.

Zinc comes in 50 mg tabs. It’s therefore difficult to take a supplement and stay under 40 mg.

* Be nice, and don't over share. View comment policy^