Are zinc supplements worth it?

There’s been a lot of media hype over the possible benefits of taking iron and zinc supplements to help prevent disease, says Adjunct Senior Lecturer in Nutrition at the University of Melbourne, Professor Ian Rae.

However a new Australian study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition this month suggests that taking zinc or iron supplements (or both) is not beneficial for heart disease risk factors.

“The evidence was clear, and didn’t support any benefit from either zinc or iron supplementation,” says Professor Rae. “The implication from the study is that people shouldn’t be taking these supplements without some demonstrated deficiency.”

Professor Rae’s research has also shown that there is often little evidence to support the widespread use of other nutritional supplements, such as vitamin C and E.

“There are many possible reasons for this,” he says. “It may be that they simply don’t work, but it may also be that large-scale studies have not been done to prove their effectiveness. Further research is required.”

The other issue is that many of the trials conducted by supplement manufacturers have been sponsored by the industry itself – a factor which casts doubt on the results.

“Many people take vitamins and mineral supplements because they’ve been told they’re the answer to feeling better, but the take-home message from these studies is that there’s no evidence this actually works,” says Professor Rae.

“It’s important to be aware of the marketing hype from supplement companies, and rather than being sceptical about scientific results, ask ‘How solid is the evidence?’ before considering taking a zinc supplement.”