Zinc is a trace mineral required for proper body function. The term "trace" refers to the fact that only minute amounts of this nutrient are necessary versus the larger quantities required, for example, with calcium or magnesium. Zinc plays several roles related to muscular activity. It is essential for chemical reactions involved with metabolism for energy and nervous system function. It also assists in the synthesis of proteins for the development of healthy muscle tissue. Because of these functions, it can influence the occurrence of muscle cramps.
The recommended daily allowance for zinc is 13 mg per day for adult men and 9 mg for adult women. You will often find zinc included in a multivitamin and mineral supplement. Dietary sources include oysters and crab. Beef and pork also provide healthy dietary sources. Because it is found in a small group of foods, deficiencies are not uncommon. In addition to relieving muscle cramps, it has other medical uses such as reducing cold symptoms and maintaining healthy vision.
Deficiencies in zinc have been associated with muscle cramps, making proper intake essential. This can be a factor if your diet is low in dietary sources. Individuals who experience malabsorption of nutrients due to a medical condition such as celiac disease may also develop zinc deficiencies. Muscle cramps occur as a complicating factor in some health conditions such as sickle cell anemia, making zinc supplementation an effective alternative treatment. Some supplements such as chromium or calcium may also interfere with zinc absorption, creating deficiencies.
Medical evidence has defined applications for using zinc to relieve muscle cramps. A 2000 study by the University of Kentucky found that supplementing with zinc relieved muscle cramps in over 80 percent of patients suffering with cirrhosis of the liver. While the exact biological mechanism was not identified, supplementation offered a way to improve the quality of life in individuals suffering from this chronic liver condition. MedlinePlus recommends 220 mg twice daily for treating muscle cramps in zinc-deficient individuals.
Before taking zinc, you need to be aware of what interferes with its effectiveness at treating muscle cramps and the incidence of side effects. Drugs.com cautions that zinc may interfere with antibiotic absorption as well as other essential nutrients such as iron, copper and vitamin A. Zinc may cause nausea and stomach upset. If you take a zinc supplement, you should take it with food. Also, avoid taking zinc with coffee, which can reduce its absorption by half. Though generally safe, consult your doctor before taking zinc.