Thinking of Giving your Child a Zinc Supplement? A Doctor Explains What You Need to Know
Zinc is an essential mineral that children need for healthy growth and development. Up until 6 months of age, infants get all the zinc that they need from breast milk or formula. After 6 months, zinc requirements go up (and the zinc content of breast milk goes down) and some solid food needs to be introduced.
If your child has a hard time eating or digesting zinc containing foods then you may want to consider a zinc supplement. Zinc supplementation for kids is also sometimes prescribed during cold and flu season, to treat skin conditions, to treat diarrhea, or to treat another concern. It may also be prescribed if a zinc deficiency is suspected.
Zinc Recommended Daily Allowance
The Recommended Daily Allowances (RDAs) for zinc are minimum amounts of zinc that are required to prevent zinc deficiency. Naturopathic doctors use RDAs for dietary assessment. You can do it yourself by looking at the amount of zinc that you get in an average week by recording your diet in a fitness tracker like Cronometer or MyFitness Pal or by looking at nutrition tables. The table below shows the Zinc RDAs from the National Institute of Health.
|0-6 months||2 mg||2 mg|
|7-12 months||3 mg||3 mg|
|1-3 years||3 mg||3 mg|
|4-8 years||5 mg||5 mg|
|9-13 years||8 mg||8 mg|
|14-18 years||11 mg||9 mg||12 mg||13 mg|
|19+ years||11 mg||8 mg||12 mg||13 mg|
Zinc Therapeutic Doses
Therapeutic doses for zinc are higher than the RDA values. This is because you need more zinc to correct a deficiency than you do to prevent a deficiency. You can find therapeutic doses listed by age on the labels of all our supplements. These are the levels of zinc that are required to correct a deficiency or to address a health problem.
Zinc Drug Interactions and Therapeutic Considerations
In general, you only want to use therapeutic doses of zinc short term. Longer term use should be monitored by a health professional. This is because zinc competes with other minerals for absorption in the digestive tract. Long term or high dose supplementation can lead to side effects (digestive upset and/or flu like symptoms) if zinc levels get too high. It can also lead to side effects if levels of other minerals (especially copper) get too low. Copper is often given with zinc in a long term treatment plan to maintain a healthy balance between these two minerals.
It’s important to know that zinc supplementation can interfere with the absorption of certain antibiotics, so they should be taken at least 4 hours apart. Zinc can also cause blood sugar to drop, so people with diabetes should monitor their blood sugar closely when they start taking zinc.
Regardless of where you choose to buy zinc supplements, the key points to remember about zinc supplementation for kids are:
- Choose the appropriate dose for your child’s age.
- Short term* doses are usually best.
- Long term* doses need to be monitored by a medical professional.
- Copper supplementation may be required to prevent zinc induced copper deficiency.
- Taking too much zinc can lead to digestive upset.
- Zinc toxicity symptoms mimic flu symptoms.
- Don’t give zinc supplements at the same time as antibiotics.
- Monitor blood sugar closely if your child is diabetic.
Zinc is an essential mineral for kids and adults and can be safely supplemented if you keep the above points in mind.
* Personal note: What constitutes short term vs long term use varies from person to person and doctor to doctor. I wish I could tell you something more concrete about what “short term” means. In our family, we take zinc daily as a preventative measure during cold and flu season, but not for the rest of the year unless a reason comes up.