It’s well-known that physical health can impact your mental wellness — in fact, research from the United Kingdom has shown that roughly 30% of people with long-term physical health conditions also have mental health problems. This demonstrates the importance of caring for your physical well-being when treating a mental health condition. Recently, the popularity of taking zinc for anxiety, depression and other issues has increased, and you may be wondering if zinc supplementation could help you recover.
There’s a proven link between zinc and mental health, and supplements can sometimes form part of a successful treatment program. However, zinc supplements have limitations and aren’t suitable for everyone. Below, we’ll outline how zinc affects mental health and what to consider.
Why Do We Need Zinc?
Zinc supports tissue healing and immunity and is also essential for DNA creation and growth. If you develop a deficiency, you may experience frequent infections or slow wound healing because your body needs zinc to produce and support immune cells.
Therefore, getting enough zinc through dietary sources or supplements is particularly important during childhood, puberty and pregnancy. You only need small amounts of zinc to support optimal health — the recommended daily amount (RDA) is 11 milligrams for men and 8 milligrams for women. Your doctor may recommend increasing your zinc intake slightly if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.
The role of zinc in the brain is highly complex. Neurons (the cells that transmit messages throughout your nervous system) require zinc to function correctly. Therefore, not getting enough zinc can lead to cognitive problems, including learning and memory difficulties.
Zinc Deficiency and Mental Health
Considering zinc’s importance in supporting a healthy brain and nervous system, it’s hardly surprising that zinc deficiency may contribute to mental health issues. Research shows that people with low zinc levels have a higher risk of developing depression, and the severity of a person’s depression often reflects the severity of their zinc deficiency.
Studies also show that low zinc levels could increase your risk of developing anxiety or make an existing anxiety disorder worse. Scientists aren’t sure exactly how low zinc levels cause or worsen mental health problems. Still, there’s evidence that achieving the correct levels of trace minerals such as zinc can aid anxiety recovery.
When it comes to zinc for OCD, researchers also discovered a link between the disorder and low levels of this essential mineral. People with OCD typically have lower levels of zinc in their blood than those without the mental health disorder.
Zinc for Anxiety: Benefits of Zinc for Mental Health
If you’re experiencing mental health issues, increasing your zinc intake could be worth considering. Studies on taking zinc for anxiety show that regular supplementation can significantly decrease symptoms. There’s also strong evidence to support taking zinc for depression. Trials show that using zinc supplements along with antidepressant medications can relieve major depressive disorder (MDD) symptoms more effectively than antidepressants alone.
Research shows that zinc supplementation can significantly reduce OCD symptoms over an 8-week period when it’s taken along with antidepressant medications.
Food Sources of Zinc
Adding zinc-rich foods to your diet is a straightforward (and delicious) way to increase your intake. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), oysters are the richest source of zinc, with a 3-ounce serving of raw Eastern-farmed oysters delivering around 32 milligrams of the mineral. Beef, blue crab and pork also score high in terms of zinc content.
Many American breakfast cereals are fortified with zinc, so it could be worth switching to a fortified brand if you’re concerned about low zinc levels. Other common food sources of zinc include:
- Pumpkin seeds
- Cheddar cheese
- Whole grain rice
It’s worth knowing that the zinc found in plant-based foods is less bioavailable than animal sources of the mineral. This means it’s harder for your body to absorb zinc from foods such as grains, nuts and beans. If you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, your doctor may recommend taking a zinc supplement to prevent a deficiency.
You can purchase zinc supplements over the counter at pharmacies and certain health food stores. They usually come in tablet or capsule form and as topical creams used to treat skin conditions such as acne. Some lozenges designed to treat sore throats also contain zinc.
Considerations and Precautions
Many people take zinc for anxiety and other mental health conditions and achieve good results. However, most people also require mental health care treatment to recover, which may include medications or talking therapies. It takes expertise to diagnose and treat mental health conditions, so discussing your symptoms with a health care provider is important. Dietary supplements such as zinc often work best when combined with established treatments.
While getting enough zinc is essential for maintaining good mental health, taking too much could actually be harmful. Excessive zinc consumption could result in the following symptoms:
- Nausea or being sick
- Reduced appetite
- Upset stomach
Too much zinc can also affect the balance of other essential trace minerals in your body. People who take zinc excessively are more likely to develop magnesium and copper deficiencies, sometimes leading to reduced immunity with long-term use.
Another factor to consider is that zinc supplements can interact with other medications. For example, taking zinc with immunosuppressant medications could make your treatment less effective, since zinc boosts the immune system.
Although zinc nasal sprays are available over the counter, you should approach these medications with caution. Nasal sprays containing zinc can sometimes cause loss of smell (anosmia), so they’re generally best avoided unless recommended by your doctor or another health care professional.
The symptoms of zinc deficiency can also be a sign of other health conditions. If you’re experiencing symptoms such as frequent infections, it’s best to consult your health care provider to rule out another cause. Your health status can also affect how much zinc you need, and it can be challenging to determine the correct dosage without medical support. Your doctor can assess how much you need for optimal physical and mental wellness.
Get Expert Mental Health Support
Taking zinc for social anxiety, depression and OCD can be helpful, but it’s not a replacement for proven mental health treatments. Our skilled professionals at Sun Health Center can help you find the correct treatment for your unique situation and assess whether zinc supplements could help. Contact us to arrange a consultation and start your journey to a healthier future.