Your body needs zinc to fight bacteria and viruses. An essential mineral, zinc also heals wounds, makes DNA and proteins, clots blood and is needed for growth. Without zinc, you can't see, smell or taste properly; your thyroid won't work well; and insulin will prove ineffective. However, some forms of zinc are better than others.
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Food vs. Supplements
Getting your essential nutrients through food is better than getting them through supplements. Food also provides fiber and energy in the form of fats, proteins and carbohydrates, and is a balanced source of numerous vitamins and minerals. Foods containing zinc include oysters, red meat, poultry, fish, cheese, shellfish, beans, peanuts, whole grains, sunflower seeds, cooked greens, pumpkin, green beans, mushrooms, fortified cereals and tofu.
Zinc supplements come in zinc acetate, zinc sulfate, zinc picolinate, zinc glycerate, zinc monomethionine and zinc gluconate forms. Although zinc sulfate is the most affordable, it is also the most difficult to absorb and may cause side effects, such as an upset stomach, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Zinc picolinate may be the easiest for your body to absorb. Zinc supplements also come in combination with other minerals, such as magnesium or calcium.
You can also use zinc lozenges, zinc nasal sprays and zinc nasal gels to help with cold symptoms. Of these three choices, zinc lozenges are the safest option, as using the nasal sprays and gels may cause you to lose your sense of smell, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements.
Warnings and Considerations
Do not take extra zinc without first talking with your doctor, as these supplements may not be suitable for you if you take certain medications or have certain health conditions. Zinc intake at levels higher than 40 milligrams per day may cause adverse effects, including lower immune function, and increased LDL and decreased HDL levels.