What Is the Difference Between Chelated Zinc and Zinc Gluconate?

Even though you don't need much zinc in your diet, it's still very important. If you need a zinc supplement and must decide between zinc picolinate versus zinc gluconate, here's what you should know. This trace mineral is essential for good health, and most people have at least a small deficiency.

Chelated zinc is a type of supplement created when zinc binds to another compound for better dietary absorption.
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Chelated zinc is a type of supplement created when zinc binds to another compound for better dietary absorption. Zinc gluconate, as well as zinc picolinate, are specific types of chelated zinc.

Why Do You Need Zinc?

Zinc is what is known as a trace mineral, meaning that the body needs it only in small amounts. However since the body does not retain stores of zinc the way it does other minerals like iron, you need to consume small amounts consistently. Unfortunately, it's common for people to have at least a mild deficiency of zinc.

Zinc is used by the body for many different processes. It is necessary for the body to keep up its immunity and heal wounds, as well as to maintain a sense of smell and taste. Zinc is also necessary for making new enzymes, proteins and cells. In fact, Beth Israel Lahey Health Winchester Hospital states that over 300 enzymes need zinc to function properly.

How much zinc should people be getting? Adult men need about 11 milligrams of zinc a day, and adult women need 8 milligrams. One of the best sources of zinc are oysters.

A 3-ounce serving of oysters has 74 milligrams, which is nearly 500 percent of a person's daily needs. Coming in second is braised beef chuck roast, a 3-ounce serving of which has 7 milligrams, meeting nearly 50 percent of a person's daily needs.

More great sources of zinc include other forms of red meat as well as poultry and seafood. Those who don't eat meat can turn to fortified cereal, beans and nuts. If you're not getting enough zinc from the foods you're eating, you could benefit from supplementation.

What Are Zinc Supplement Options?

Different zinc supplement products on the market are made with different forms of zinc. These forms include zinc sulfate, zinc gluconate, zinc citrate, zinc picolinate, zinc oxide and zinc acetate. Zinc can be taken either orally or topically depending on the need.

In addition to meeting their nutritional needs, some people might turn to zinc supplements used to ward off colds and macular degeneration. Zinc has also been hailed as being helpful in fighting conditions like acne, anorexia, ADHD, cold sores, diabetes, diarrhea, eczema, impotence, prostatitis, radiation therapy support, rheumatoid arthritis, sickle-cell anemia, tinnitus and ulcers.

Chelated zinc is a general form of supplementary zinc in which the zinc is chelated — or bound — to a compound to make it easier for the body to absorb. Zinc picolinate or zinc gluconate are formed when zinc is chelated to picolinic acid or gluconic acid, so the main difference between zinc gluconate and picolinate is what compound it is bound to.

As for the difference between zinc gluconate and picolinate when it comes to absorption and use by the body? Well, it's hard to say for sure.

Zinc Picolinate vs. Zinc Gluconate

What are the major differences between the forms of zinc? Is there an advantage to choosing zinc picolinate versus zinc gluconate? Or for that matter, what about zinc acetate, or zinc oxide? What are the uses of each?

Read more: Which Form of Zinc Is Best?

According to the Beth Israel Lahey Health Winchester Hospital, a person supplementing with zinc will find their best options in the form of zinc citrate, zinc acetate and zinc picolinate because these absorb the best. Zinc gluconate is not among the top three, but it is absorbed better than zinc oxide. As far as cost goes, zinc sulfate is the lowest-cost option among the supplements.

Zinc isn't always taken orally — it can sometimes be taken intranasally or topically. Zinc citrate is the form that's most commonly used in dental hygiene products like toothpaste and mouthwash to fight plaque and gingivitis, and zinc sulfate is the form that's often used in eye drops to treat eye irritation.

One difference between zinc gluconate and picolinate is that zinc gluconate, along with zinc acetate, has antiviral properties. This makes it a good form for making lozenges and nasal gels that don't contribute to the amount of iron digested and absorbed by the body, but it can fight viruses infecting the nose and throat.

The Mayo Clinic explains that zinc-based lozenges and syrups can be effective if they are used within the first 24 hours of the sign of symptoms. However, be careful — use of intranasal zinc has been linked with the loss of smell.

Zinc oxide can be used topically as a cream for treating diaper rash and preventing sunburn. Topical creams with zinc oxide are also used for treating cold sores. Zinc sulfate is included in eye drops as a treatment for eye irritation.

Although different forms of zinc have different amounts of elemental zinc that can be used by the body, the National Institutes of Health explains that there is no research indicating whether there are any superior forms in terms of absorption, bioavailability or tolerability.

One older study — published in the June 1987 issue of Agents Actions — did look at the effectiveness of three forms of zinc supplement and may shed a little bit of light on choosing zinc glycinate versus picolinate. The study looked at only 15 healthy human subjects who were divided into four groups. Over the course of four weeks, the four groups were tested with zinc picolinate, zinc citrate, zinc gluconate or a placebo.

Based on the zinc measurements in their hair, urine, erythrocyte and serum both before and after, zinc picolinate was the only form to raise zinc levels, at least in the hair, urine and erythrocyte. An insignificant rise was seen in the zinc levels of serum from zinc gluconate, zinc citrate and placebo supplementation.

Based on these results, it seems as if zinc picolinate is most likely to absorb into a person's body, and zinc gluconate is the least likely. In terms of zinc glycinate versus picolinate, the picolinate wins this one. Still, more research would be needed to know more about zinc glycinate versus picolinate, especially because this study was done so long ago.

Read more: Why Zinc Picolinate May Be the Best of All Zinc Supplements

If you think a zinc supplement is right for you, talk to your doctor about which form you should take. This is especially important because zinc can interfere with your body's absorption of copper and iron, so you might need to supplement those minerals as well.

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