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Can Zinc Make You Nauseous?

Zinc can indeed cause nausea, especially when taken in high doses or on an empty stomach. This common side effect is often temporary but can be mitigated through proper supplementation practices.

Zinc plays a crucial role in our bodies. It supports immune function, aids in wound healing, and contributes to DNA synthesis. Despite its importance, zinc supplementation can sometimes lead to unwanted effects. Nausea is one of the most common complaints among zinc users. Let’s dive into why this happens and how to avoid it.

Why Zinc Might Upset Your Stomach

Zinc supplements can be hard on the digestive system. Several factors contribute to this issue. High doses are often the culprit. The body only needs small amounts of zinc daily. Exceeding these limits can overwhelm the stomach.

Taking zinc on an empty stomach is another common mistake. Without food to buffer it, zinc can irritate the stomach lining. This irritation often leads to nausea and discomfort. The type of zinc supplement also matters. Some forms are more likely to cause stomach upset than others.

Zinc interacts with other nutrients in the body. These interactions can sometimes lead to digestive issues. For example, zinc can interfere with copper absorption. This interference might contribute to nausea in some people.

The duration of nausea from zinc varies. Some people experience it briefly after taking a supplement. Others might feel queasy for several hours. In most cases, the discomfort subsides once the body processes the zinc.

According to a study published in PubMed, zinc supplementation increased the risk of nausea by 64% compared to placebo groups. This finding highlights the importance of proper zinc intake.

Forms of Zinc and Their Effects

Not all zinc supplements are created equal. Some forms are more likely to cause nausea than others. Zinc oxide, for example, is less easily absorbed by the body. This poor absorption can lead to more zinc remaining in the stomach, increasing the risk of irritation.

Zinc gluconate and zinc picolinate are generally better tolerated. These forms are more bioavailable, meaning the body can use them more efficiently. As a result, they’re less likely to cause stomach upset.

The supplement industry offers various zinc products. Some contain additional ingredients that might contribute to nausea. Fillers, binders, and coatings can all play a role in how well a supplement is tolerated.

It’s worth noting that zinc from food sources rarely causes nausea. The body is better equipped to handle zinc in its natural form. Foods high in zinc include oysters, beef, pumpkin seeds, and lentils. These sources provide zinc along with other nutrients that aid in its absorption.

Dosage Matters: How Much is Too Much?

The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for zinc varies by age and gender. For adult men, it’s 11 mg per day. For adult women, it’s 8 mg per day. These amounts are easily obtained through a balanced diet.

Problems often arise when people take high-dose supplements. The upper limit for zinc intake is set at 40 mg per day for adults. Exceeding this amount significantly increases the risk of side effects, including nausea.

Some health conditions or situations might require higher zinc intake. Nevertheless these cases should be monitored by a healthcare professional. Self-prescribing high doses of zinc can lead to complications.

It’s crucial to consider total zinc intake from all sources. This includes diet, multivitamins, and any zinc-specific supplements. Tracking total intake helps prevent accidental overdosing.

Timing and Food: Keys to Better Tolerance

In terms of zinc supplementation, timing is crucial. Taking zinc with food can significantly reduce the risk of nausea. Meals containing protein or fat are particularly effective at buffering zinc.

Some people find success in splitting their zinc dose. Taking smaller amounts throughout the day, rather than one large dose, can be easier on the stomach. This approach allows the body to process zinc more gradually.

Hydration also plays a role in zinc tolerance. Drinking plenty of water with zinc supplements can help dilute stomach acid and reduce irritation. This straightforward step can make a big difference for some people.

Certain foods pair well with zinc supplements. Yogurt, for example, not only offers a exceptional base for zinc but also contains probiotics that support digestive health. Other exceptional options include avocado, nuts, and cheese.

Long-Term Use and Potential Risks

While short-term zinc use is generally safe, long-term high-dose supplementation can lead to problems. Chronic nausea is just one potential issue. Prolonged high intake of zinc can interfere with the absorption of other crucial minerals.

Copper deficiency is a particular concern with long-term zinc supplementation. Zinc and copper compete for absorption in the body. Too much zinc can lead to a copper imbalance, which has its own set of health risks.

Some people develop a tolerance to zinc over time. What initially caused nausea might become more tolerable with continued use. Nevertheless this doesn’t mean the body needs or benefits from high doses of zinc.

Regular blood tests can help monitor zinc levels in those taking supplements long-term. These tests can catch potential imbalances before they become serious problems. They also help ensure that supplementation is actually necessary.

Natural Alternatives to Zinc Supplements

For those struggling with zinc-induced nausea, natural alternatives exist. Dietary sources of zinc are often better tolerated than supplements. They also provide a more balanced nutrient profile.

Oysters are the richest natural source of zinc. Just a few oysters can meet the daily requirement. For those who don’t enjoy seafood, beef and pork are also exceptional sources. Vegetarian options include pumpkin seeds, lentils, and chickpeas.

Fortified foods can also help boost zinc intake without the risk of nausea. Many breakfast cereals and plant-based milk alternatives are fortified with zinc. These can be a exceptional option for those who struggle to meet their zinc needs through whole foods alone.

Some herbs and spices contain zinc as well. Thyme and basil, for example, provide small amounts of zinc. While not significant sources on their own, they can contribute to overall zinc intake when used regularly in cooking.

When to Seek Medical Advice

While nausea from zinc is often mild and temporary, sometimes it can indicate a more serious issue. Persistent or severe nausea should be evaluated by a healthcare provider. This is especially true if nausea is accompanied by other symptoms like vomiting or abdominal pain.

People with certain health conditions should be cautious with zinc supplementation. Those with kidney disease or absorption disorders may process zinc differently. In these cases, professional guidance is crucial to avoid complications.

Zinc can interact with certain medications. Antibiotics, for example, can be affected by zinc intake. Always inform your healthcare provider about any supplements you’re taking, including zinc.

If you’re considering zinc supplementation for a specific health concern, consult a healthcare professional first. They can help determine if supplementation is necessary and, if so, the appropriate dosage and form.


Zinc is an essential mineral with many health benefits. Nevertheless it can cause nausea, especially when taken improperly. High doses, empty stomach consumption, and certain forms of zinc are more likely to cause digestive upset. Proper timing, dosage, and form selection can help minimize these effects. For those who struggle with zinc supplements, dietary sources offer a gentler alternative. Always consult with a healthcare provider before starting any new supplement regimen, especially if you experience persistent side effects.


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