Zinc Supplements Can Help People with Diabetes

Patient Expert

Credit: Mikael Häggström

If you are healthy, you may not need to take a zinc supplement. But if your health isn’t good enough, a new meta-analysis indicates that you probably need to take one. The study categorizes people with type 2 diabetes as “non-healthy.”

The mineral zinc plays an important role in how our bodies use insulin and in the metabolism of carbohydrates. When non-healthy people take a zinc supplement, the new study found that they can “significantly reduce total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides.”

An earlier meta-analysis focused entirely on people with diabetes. It found that zinc helps us manage both our blood glucose and lipids better.

The journal Nutrition and Metabolism published the new meta-analysis in 2015 as “Effects of Zinc supplementation on serum lipids.” Some of these same researchers published the earlier meta-analysis, “Effects of Zinc Supplementation on Diabetes Mellitus,” in the journal Diabetology and Metabolic Syndrome in 2015. The full texts of both studies are free online.

Low levels of zinc can be deadly

One third of all the people in the world are deficient in zinc. Marginal zinc deficiency is common in developed countries, and severe zinc deficiency is common in developing countries. It is a major factor contributing to the deaths of 1.4 percent of people worldwide. It is associated with diabetes, cancer, and many other diseases.

The new meta-analysis reviewed and summarized the findings of 32 studies involving more than 14,000 people. The earlier meta-analysis of people who have diabetes included three studies of people with type 1 and 22 studies of people with type 2 diabetes. The earlier study was the first and apparently the only meta-analysis of zinc supplementation for people with diabetes.

How much zinc to take

You need to carefully consider how much supplemental zinc you need to take. Don’t take any if you are healthy. But even if you have diabetes, you may be healthy. If you regularly have a normal blood glucose level, one as measured by A1C tests that is 6.0 or less, and don’t have any serious complications of diabetes or other diseases, you are healthy. Sadly, however, few people who have diabetes have been able to control their diabetes to this extent. In this case, be sure to take a zinc supplement.

How much? Like essentially everything, you can just as easily take too much zinc as you can take too little. A moderate dose is what you need. People included in the more recent meta-analysis took an average 39.3 mg per day. This is just a bit below the tolerable upper intake level of 40 mg.

The earlier meta-analysis, which was of people with diabetes, found that their levels of HDL cholesterol -- the good cholesterol -- seemed to get lower -- worse -- when they took more than 50 mg per day for three months or more. Even more conditions worsened at even higher doses. At a lower level one of the studies in this meta-analysis showed that even just 20 mg per day helped elderly people who were marginally deficient in zinc.

Are you healthy?

Are you healthy or not? You need to decide and do what’s best for yourself. If you aren’t healthy, in the short term you need a zinc supplement. In the long term you need to focus your life’s energy on regaining your health.

See more of my articles on how to manage diabetes:

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