Zinc and Kids' Immunity: Unveiling the Connection Between Zinc and the Common Cold


Zinc rich foods


Are you one of the many people who use over the counter zinc to fight the common cold? Do you also give it to your kids? And wonder if it is really helping to prevent or treat a cold?


Zinc is a common ingredient in natural cold and flu remedies, because it is thought to boost immunity. In addition to immunity, zinc plays a vital role in childhood. So I wanted to highlight the importance of zinc in kids as well as discuss evidence for taking supplemental zinc. 


And as with all nutrients, I think zinc is best consumed from food, so let’s also consider the wide range of food options to meet your child’s zinc needs and keep your family’s immune systems in tip top shape.


Why is Zinc Important?

Zinc is an essential mineral (this means we can’t make it, but need to eat it from food) and it plays an important role in many functions within the body, from supporting the immune system to wound healing to skin and eye health to growth and development in kids and much more. 


Did you know that an estimated 17-20% of the world’s population is zinc deficient?(2) And while less common in the US, certain diseases or conditions and more restrictive diets (vegetarian and vegan) can lead to deficiency. When our bodies don’t consume enough zinc, we have reduced white blood cells that help fight infection, reduced antibody production which helps us neutralize pathogens, it disrupts our immune system signaling pathways, and impairs our inflammatory response, all which potentially make us more susceptible to illness.(1, 2, 3) In kids a common sign of zinc deficiency is diarrhea, and zinc deficiency can impact growth and appetite. Even a mild or moderate deficiency could impact the immune system, in addition to growth, so we want to make sure our kids are getting enough zinc.


How Can Zinc Impact Kids and Colds?


Researchers have examined the role of zinc in preventing and treating colds for many decades. And while it’s not fully understood and sometimes research is conflicting, most research points to zinc having an impact on the prevention and treatment of common colds. And it's shown to be beneficial even in those people who are not deficient.  Here’s some ways zinc fights colds:

  • It may prevent colds. Taking zinc throughout the cold season could potentially prevent respiratory infections, but this is where data is most limited. (4)
  • It can shorten the duration of colds. Once symptoms appear, the virus continues to replicate for a few days. This may explain why taking zinc at the first sign of a cold can help you feel better faster. (4, 5, 6, 7, 8)
  • It can lessen the severity of symptoms. Some studies also point to a decrease in severity, so even if you get sick it may not be as bad. (1, 4, 8)


How Can I Make Sure My Kids Get Enough Zinc?

Maybe you are wondering how much zinc your kids need? It varies based on age, and increases as we age. According to the Dietary Reference Intake, here’s how much zinc kids need:


Age Group

Recommended Amount of Zinc

Toddlers (1-3 years old)

3 mg

Young Kids (4-8 years old)

5 mg

Older Kids (9-13 years old)

8 mg

Even older Kids (14-18 years old)

9-11  mg


What this looks like from food

I always think it’s best to get your nutrients from food. If you are wondering where you can find zinc, here’s some examples:



Pumpkin Seeds








In general meat and seafood are the best sources of zinc. Eggs and dairy are also good sources. And while many plant sources have high amounts of zinc, the zinc is less bioavailable due to phytates inhibiting absorption. It doesn’t mean that these sources shouldn’t count, but you will just want to consume higher amounts.


What does this look like for a young kid? A 4-8 year old needs 5 mg of zinc. They can meet their zinc needs with 2 cups of milk, about 2 ounces of beef, and ½ cup of lentils. Or by eating 1 ounce of pumpkin seeds, 2 ounces of shrimp, ½ cup of chickpeas and 1 egg.


If your kids consume meat, dairy and seafood, they most likely are meeting their zinc needs. If they don’t, consider speaking with your child’s pediatrician or a dietitian to see how to optimize zinc in the diet or to see if supplemental zinc is recommended.

Are Zinc Supplements Safe?

In general zinc supplements are safe for kids. It is important to know that taking too much zinc can interfere with iron and copper absorption. Zinc supplements can also cause nausea and vomiting. And it's worth mentioning that much of the evidence regarding zinc's role in prevention and treatment of colds has been gathered in adults. So while zinc is safe, it should be given in appropriate amounts, based on diet intake, symptoms or a documented zinc deficiency.


Final Thoughts on Zinc For Kids

My final thoughts on giving zinc to kids to help during cold season: If you give your child small amounts of regular zinc during cold and flu season which helps fill in the gaps from their diet intake, this may likely help decrease the severity and the duration of a cold when they get them.  It may not prevent them from getting colds, but hopefully makes the cold season more manageable.


If you are curious about other nutrients important during cold and flu season, we also wrote about the evidence for taking Vitamin C in a previous blog post.


If zinc supplements or other supplements are something you are interested in, speak with your physician or reach out to me via email to answer any questions you have. We have a Fullscript shop for easy ordering and a shared immunity plan with recommendations for cold and flu season.



  1. Shakoor H, Feehan J, Al Dhaheri AS, Ali HI, Platat C, Ismail LC, Apostolopoulos V, Stojanovska L. Immune-boosting role of vitamins D, C, E, zinc, selenium and omega-3 fatty acids: Could they help against COVID-19? Maturitas. 2021 Jan;143:1-9. 
  2. Read SA, Obeid S, Ahlenstiel C, Ahlenstiel G. The Role of Zinc in Antiviral Immunity. Adv Nutr. 2019 Jul 1;10(4):696-710. 
  3. Maares M, Haase H. Zinc and immunity: An essential interrelation. Arch Biochem Biophys. 2016 Dec 1;611:58-65. doi: 10.1016/j.abb.2016.03.022. Epub 2016 Mar 26. PMID: 27021581.
  4. Hunter J, Arentz S, Goldenberg J, et al. Zinc for the prevention or treatment of acute viral respiratory tract infections in adults: a rapid systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. BMJ Open. 2021;11(11):e047474. 
  5. Hemilä H, Fitzgerald JT, Petrus EJ, Prasad A. Zinc acetate lozenges may improve the recovery rate of common cold patients: an individual patient data meta-analysis. Open Forum Infect Dis. 2017;4(2):ofx059. 
  6. Mossad SB, Macknin ML, Medendorp SV, Mason P. Zinc gluconate lozenges for treating the common cold. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Ann Intern Med. 1996 Jul 15;125(2):81-8. 
  7. Petrus EJ, Lawson KA, Bucci LR, Blum K. Randomized, double-masked, placebo-controlled clinical study of the effectiveness of zinc acetate lozenges on common cold symptoms in allergy-tested subjects. Curr Ther Res Clin Exp. 1998 Sep;59(9):595-607.
  8. Prasad AS, Fitzgerald JT, Bao B, Beck FW, Chandrasekar PH. Duration of symptoms and plasma cytokine levels in patients with the common cold treated with zinc acetate. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Ann Intern Med. 2000 Aug 15;133(4):245-52.
  9. National Institute of Health Fact Sheet. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/#en59
    Back to blog