Zinc and Diabetes

Z is the last letter in the alphabet, which means it often receives little or no attention. Yet Z is the first letter in the word “zinc.” How much thought have you ever given to zinc? Maybe some, if you take zinc supplements for a cold, for example. But new research indicates that zinc is something else that people with diabetes should think about. Why? Read on.


In case you’re wondering what the heck zinc does, it’s helpful to know that it’s an essential mineral that plays very important roles in the body. The body can’t make zinc, so we must take it in from food sources. Zinc is stored in the muscles, blood cells, retina of the eye, skin, bone, kidney, liver, pancreas, and in men, prostate.

What does zinc do for us? Primarily, zinc helps the immune system function properly. It’s also needed for cell growth and division, wound healing, and the breakdown of carbohydrate for energy. We need zinc to maintain our sense of taste and smell, too. Finally, zinc is an antioxidant, protecting our cells from free radicals, or molecules that can wreak havoc and possibly lead to heart disease and cancer.

Zinc is found in many foods. The main sources of zinc in the American diet are red meat, poultry, and seafood, but it’s also found in legumes, whole grains, nuts, and dairy foods. Zinc is better absorbed from animal foods than from plant foods, since compounds called phytates that are found in plants can hinder its absorption. Daily zinc requirements are 11 milligrams for adult men and 8 milligrams for adult women. Symptoms of zinc deficiency include stunted growth (in children), hair loss, diarrhea, decreased appetite, eye and skin lesions, delayed wound healing, and weight loss. People with chronic gastrointestinal disorders, such as Crohn disease, are at risk for zinc deficiency.

How does zinc relate to diabetes? Interestingly, zinc has long been an ingredient used in “older” insulins, such as Regular, NPH, and Lente. Zinc is also necessary for the formation of insulin in the pancreas’s beta cells. For these reasons, researchers have looked at the role of zinc supplementation in the prevention and treatment of Type 2 diabetes—unfortunately, without success.

However, new light has been shed on the role of zinc in diabetes. In this month’s issue of Diabetes Care, Finnish researchers followed 1,050 adults with Type 2 diabetes for seven years. During that time, 156 participants died from heart disease and 254 had fatal or nonfatal heart attacks. Blood zinc levels were lower in people who died from heart disease compared to those who survived; also, zinc levels were lower in those who had heart attacks. The authors of this study speculate that, possibly because zinc has antioxidant properties, supplementation may be useful in warding off heart disease in people with Type 2 diabetes.

Don’t start popping zinc pills just yet (unless it’s under the supervision of your health-care team); we still need to learn more. Too much zinc can upset the balance of copper and iron in the body, can weaken the immune system, can lower levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol, and can cause nausea and vomiting. Zinc supplements can interfere with the absorption and function of many medicines, including ACE inhibitors, some antibiotics, hormone replacement therapy, and corticosteroids. To be on the safe side, aim to get your zinc from food sources, as mentioned above. You’ll also get zinc if you take a multivitamin/multimineral supplement.

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  • sunshine red

    I read about fenugreek being helpful to
    get pancreas going. Has anyone really
    got hands on knowhow? I also like the
    idea of cinnamon for metabulism leveling.
    I lowered my blood sugar level 370 in
    2 weeks -change of diet.
    Anyone got helpful advice?

  • norman

    enjoy your website

  • claudia

    me gusta los nuevos estudios que publican especialmente cuando son de nutricion en medicina me parecen muy utiles para todos.

  • robertmiles

    Over on newsgroup alt.support.diabetes, I saw several people report their results from trying cinnamon. About half said it helped a little, but not very much. About half said it didn’t help enough to notice. One said it increased her blood sugar instead.

    If you’d like a summary of what that newsgroup recommends, see here:


  • lorenzo sanchez

    I have a liver transplant 3 years ago
    I take two mlg. of prograg daily
    I raise eaten lot of oyster abour 50 a day since I was a little kid I had type two diabetics
    and 61 years old ¿can I take zinc?

  • acampbell

    Hi lorenzo,
    I’m not clear on what medication you’re taking. But maybe more importantly, eating 50 oysters a day is giving you a very large amount of zinc. I definitely would not recommend taking a zinc supplement, and you may want to cut down on how many oysters you eat. Too much zinc is unhealthy and can lead to serious health problems.

  • Miss Johns

    I agree with acampbell. From all the research I have been doing, zinc is a great and must have thing for the body. Remember that zinc and copper work together. If you get too much zinc, it will nuetralize the copper, and vise versa. If you are eating 50 oysters daily, you are getting about 640 mg of zinc. That is WAY too much! 11 is the max for 19+ year old people daily. My advice would be to NOT take any zinc supplements, and definantly cut back on your oyster intake (you do the math)!

  • bikram

    zinc ,selenium,alpha lipoic acid,magnesium,
    and fibrous food are all good for diabetes and prostate health in man .Ginseng ,ashwagandha
    ,shilajit are good for increasing metabolism
    and thus reduce blood sugar in the blood also
    Laxatives are a must to maintain diabetes and prostate health. Shilajit and ashwagandha and
    ginseng also help in reducing weght and less
    pressure on prostate also .
    Above all pranayam is best for maintaining the health of prostate and pancreas .this is my
    personal experience.
    bikram jit singh
    veterinarian .

  • sue

    Hi. Am diabetic. Yesterday started taking Cold-Eeze lozenges for a cold. I can breathe, and throat isn’t sore which i like. Feel “speedy” which i don’t like. Did have 10 oz coffee this a.m. Mistake. Left doc a phone msg. Thought i’d connect w/ u, too. Taking one lozenge about every 4-6 hrs. (Max is 6/day per box label.) See any problem? Just found your blog. Like.

  • acampbell

    Hi sue,

    There shouldn’t be an issue with you taking the zinc lozenges as long as you are not exceeding the recommended dose. Too much zinc can cause heartburn, nausea, diarrhea, and mouth irritation. And once your cold is better, stop taking them (which you would probably do anyway!).

  • Sylvia

    Hi, I have Type 2 Diabetes and I take Glipizide, Metformin, Crestor, One-A-Day Bayer aspirin, Thyroid medication, daily. I am currently 56 years old, I was interested in taking zinc pills but I did a little research and wasn’t sure if I should start taking them or not. Please help!

    p.s. Is it ok for me to take the Omega 3 Fish Oil Pills?

  • Mickey Bowler

    here is what I know about zinc. recently there was a class action suit against a manufacturer of dental cream that holds dentures in place. The suit was brought because the product had zinc in it. the zinc in the product was replacing copper in the synapses of nerves. this was causing the nerves not to function properly. the outcome of the nerves not working properly was neuropathy. I personally acquired neuropathy progressively over a period of time. I ended up walking on crutches. I am diabetic and take insulin every day. I am concerned that all insulin contains zinc. It seems to me that there is something wrong with putting zinc in insulin which is supposed to help prevent neuropathy. It has been proven that taking zinc continuously in dental cream will cause neuropathy.