Does Stress Increase the Amount of Zinc You Need in Your Diet?

Zinc Foods


Did you know zinc is the most abundant metal in the body after iron? That shows how important this mineral is for human health. Along with participating in hundreds of different chemical reactions within the body and occurring within every tissue, zinc is very active. It takes part in hundreds of different chemical reactions that maintain health and well-being. You need it frequently too since your body can’t store it.

What are some of zinc’s functions? This mineral plays a role in synthesizing protein for the growth and maintenance of tissue. It’s also an integral part of enzymes that help with digestion and energy production and plays an important role in wound healing, immune health, and your ability to taste and smell. Zinc levels are higher in the male reproductive organs, and also increase during pregnancy. A lack of dietary zinc can lead to female infertility.

Does Stress Increase the Amount of Zinc You Need?

Most people get enough zinc in their diet to avoid deficiency, yet up to a third of people fall short of the quantity of zinc they need for good health. People who eat a vegetarian or vegan diet are at higher risk since zinc is abundant in animal-based food and is less plentiful in plant-based foods, although it is possible to meet zinc requirements without eating meat or dairy.

What is the recommended zinc requirement for men and women? Men need 11 grams of zinc per day, while women should get 8 grams daily. However, people who exercise and elderly people may need even more zinc. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), vegetarians need as much as 50% more than the recommended zinc requirement for men and women who eat an omnivorous diet.

Another situation that increases the need for dietary zinc and that’s stress, including exercise, aging, and chronic medical stress. First, let’s look at how aging affects the need for zinc.

Why Zinc Requirements Rise with Age

Why might older people need more zinc? Although human research is lacking, animal research offers insights. A study by scientists at Oregon State University and the College of Public Health and Human Sciences found that proteins involved in transporting zinc into cells do not function as well in older animals, leaving them susceptible to zinc deficiency.

Why is this important? When zinc levels are low, it leads to inflammation throughout the body and DNA damage, thereby increasing the risk of health problems such as heart disease and cancer. Zinc is also necessary for wound healing, fertility, and bone mineralization.

Intense Exercise and Zinc Needs

Exercise is another activity that places stress on your body and if you are physically active, you may need more zinc than a couch potato. In a study carried out by the ARS Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center researchers divided male athletes into two groups. One group of male athletes consumed 18 milligrams of zinc per day, while another consumed only 3 milligrams, for nine weeks.

The findings? Exercisers who consumed a diet with lower zinc content experienced a decline in aerobic capacity when they exercised. You might wonder why consuming less zinc hindered their cardiovascular exercise performance. Zinc is essential for manufacturing an enzyme in red blood cells known as carbonic anhydrase that absorbs carbon dioxide from the tissues and transports it back to the lungs where it can be released and not build up in tissues.

According to a study published in the journal Sports Medicine, endurance athletes more commonly experience zinc deficiency than the average population. This deficiency places them at risk of reduced endurance, loss of muscle mass, and increased risk of osteoporosis. Low zinc levels also impair strength and vigor. Therefore, an excess of zinc may worsen the performance of athletes engaged in endurance exercises and workouts that require strength and vigor.

Researchers found that people who engage in strenuous activity such as endurance or other forms of strenuous activity have a higher risk of zinc deficiency. Zinc deficiency can decrease the ability of muscles to repair and recover, especially after an injury.

Other Forms of Stress

Studies show that zinc plays a role in the body’s stress response. One hormone that rises when you’re under stress, including excessive calorie restriction, is cortisol. When cortisol stays high, it can lead to bone loss, disruption of the immune system, infertility, poor blood sugar control, and mood issues, like anxiety and depression. Research shows that cortisol lowers zinc in the bloodstream. Plus, your body’s requirement for zinc also rises during periods of stress.

Fulfilling Your Body’s Zinc Needs

When you exercise a lot or consume a low-protein or low-calorie diet, you are more likely to develop zinc deficiency. How do you know if you’re low? A blood test can measure the zinc level in your plasma, but the results may be unreliable. This method works well when detecting significant zinc deficiency but is less effective if the deficiency is mild or borderline since it doesn’t detect low tissue levels of zinc. Therefore, athletes and the elderly should include zinc-rich foods in their diet and be aware that their requirements may be higher.

Zinc is best obtained from our diet than a supplement, as supplements when taken in excess can result in copper deficiency due to zinc’s ability to block copper absorption. Copper deficiency usually manifests itself as anemia or neurological problems. Zinc in large quantities can also reduce the absorption of other minerals such as iron.

How can you meet your body’s zinc needs through food? An abundance of zinc is in foods like oysters, beef, chicken, and lamb and lesser quantities in plant-based foods Hence, vegetarian athletes and older vegetarians are at risk. Plant-based sources of zinc include pecans, pumpkin seeds, chickpeas, beans, quinoa, walnuts, cashews, and wheat germ.

The Take-Home Message

Depending upon the diet you eat, you may not get enough zinc. Plus, there is some evidence that you need more after the age of 60 and if you’re physically active, especially if you do high-intensity exercise or long periods of cardiovascular exercise, and if you’re under chronic stress. Make sure you get enough of this mineral which is so important to good health.


  • National Institutes of Health. “Zinc”
  • org. “Zinc Facts”
  • org. “Are You Getting Enough Zinc?”
  • The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 81, Issue 5, May 2005, Pages 1045-1051, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/81.5.1045.

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