Does zinc lower anxiety?

Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health conditions worldwide, affecting millions of people. They are characterized by excessive and persistent worry, nervousness, and fear that negatively impact daily functioning. While psychotherapy and medications are often used to treat anxiety, some people prefer natural remedies like vitamins and supplements. One supplement that has received attention for its potential anti-anxiety effects is zinc. In this comprehensive article, we’ll explore the evidence on whether zinc can help lower anxiety.

What is zinc and what are its functions?

Zinc is an essential trace mineral that is naturally present in many foods and available as a dietary supplement. It plays a vital role in numerous aspects of cellular metabolism and immune function. Some key functions of zinc include:

  • Catalyzing metabolic reactions
  • Supporting the immune system
  • Facilitating DNA and RNA production
  • Regulating gene transcription
  • Maintaining sensory function
  • Influencing neurotransmission

Zinc deficiency can negatively impact growth, immunity, neurological function, and development. Mild to moderate zinc deficiency is estimated to affect up to 2 billion people worldwide.

How is zinc involved in mental health?

There is growing evidence that zinc plays an important role in mental health due to its influence on the central nervous system. Here are some of the ways that zinc may impact brain function and mental health:

  • Regulates NMDA receptors – Zinc modulates N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor activity in the brain. Dysfunction of NMDA receptor signaling is implicated in many psychiatric disorders.
  • Neurotransmission – Zinc influences neurotransmission systems including GABAergic, glutamatergic, and monoaminergic signaling.
  • Neuronal plasticity – Zinc supports long-term potentiation which facilitates learning and memory processes.
  • Neurogenesis – Zinc helps regulate neuronal stem cell proliferation and differentiation in the brain.
  • Reduces inflammation – Zinc has anti-inflammatory effects in the brain that may promote mental health.
  • Protects against oxidative stress – As an antioxidant, zinc may shield neurons from damage.

Through these mechanisms, zinc helps support cognitive functions and plays a regulatory role in mood, motivation, and emotional processing.

How could zinc help lower anxiety?

The specific mechanisms by which zinc may help lower anxiety are complex and not fully understood. However, here are some of the main ways that zinc is thought to have anti-anxiety effects:

  • Boosts GABA activity – Enhances signaling of the neurotransmitter GABA which has calming effects.
  • Modulates NMDA receptors – Regulates excitatory glutamate activity to prevent neuronal overactivity.
  • Lowers inflammation – Decreases inflammatory cytokines and markers associated with anxiety.
  • Reduces oxidative stress – Lessens oxidative damage to neurons implicated in anxiety.
  • Supports neurogenesis – Promotes formation of neurons that may buffer against anxiety.
  • Enhances brain plasticity – Facilitates adaptive changes in brain circuits related to anxiety.

Through these mechanisms, adequate zinc levels may help regulate key pathways and processes in the brain to reduce anxiety. Zinc likely optimizes neural signaling and minimizes neuronal damage to promote resilience against anxious thoughts and feelings.

What does the research say about zinc for anxiety?

A growing number of scientific studies have examined the relationship between zinc levels and anxiety, as well as the effects of zinc supplementation on anxiety symptoms. Here is a summary of some key research findings:

Zinc deficiency correlates with anxiety

Observational studies show associations between lower zinc levels and greater anxiety in both human and animal research:

  • A study in young women found that mild zinc deficiency correlated with higher self-reported anxiety.
  • Research in mice demonstrated that dietary zinc deficiency increased anxiety-like behaviors.
  • Baboon studies linked lower zinc levels with abnormal anxiety responses to stress.

While correlational, these findings suggest that inadequate zinc intake may contribute to anxiety vulnerability.

Zinc supplementation reduces anxiety

Clinical trials examining zinc supplementation demonstrate therapeutic effects on anxiety:

  • Multiple studies found that taking zinc supplements for 1-3 months significantly decreased anxiety scores in young adults.
  • Among depressed patients, zinc supplementation provided greater reductions in anxiety symptoms compared to placebo.
  • Pregnant women who took zinc supplements had lower rates of anxiety compared to those taking placebo.

The anxiolytic effects occurred in doses ranging from 25-150 mg/day, through various forms like zinc gluconate and sulfate.

Mechanistic studies

Preclinical studies in rodent models provide insights into how zinc supplementation may mitigate anxiety:

  • Zinc treatment reversed anxious behaviors induced by NMDA receptor activation, suggesting effects on glutamate signaling.
  • Zinc blocked anxiety caused by withdrawal from alcohol or nicotine, potentially by modulating neurotransmitter systems.
  • In chronically stressed mice, zinc supplementation normalized anxiety-like behaviors and reduced inflammation in the hippocampus.

Overall, a sizable body of research indicates that zinc has anti-anxiety properties through its actions in the central nervous system.

Is zinc effective for anxiety disorders?

While many studies show promising effects, there is currently limited evidence that zinc supplementation can significantly improve diagnosed anxiety disorders like generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety, panic disorder, OCD, and PTSD. More research is still needed to determine the efficacy, optimal dosing, and safety of zinc for treating anxiety disorders, especially in the long-term. Nonetheless, zinc may offer a helpful complementary treatment alongside traditional therapies like CBT and medications. Discuss with your doctor before using zinc supplements for diagnosed anxiety.

Are there risks or side effects of too much zinc?

Getting sufficient zinc is important for mental health, but too much can also be harmful. Potential side effects of excessive zinc intake can include:

  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Poor copper and iron absorption
  • Reduced HDL cholesterol
  • Impaired immune function

The recommended upper daily limit for zinc is 40 mg for adults. High doses over 150 mg/day are not recommended long-term due to greater risk of adverse effects and copper deficiency. Older adults are also more vulnerable to zinc toxicity. Talk to your doctor about safe dosing before supplementing with zinc, especially if taking other multi-vitamins or minerals.

What are good dietary sources of zinc?

Rather than supplements, getting sufficient zinc from whole food sources is ideal for overall health. Some of the best dietary sources of zinc include:

Food Serving Zinc (mg)
Oysters 6 medium oysters (3 oz) 74
Beef 3 oz cooked steak 7
Baked beans 1 cup 3
Yogurt 1 cup 1-3
Chickpeas 1 cup cooked 2
Cashews 1 oz (28g) 1
Milk 1 cup 1

Eating a balanced diet with zinc-rich foods like oysters, red meat, legumes, seeds, nuts, dairy, and whole grains can help maintain optimal zinc levels. This may support mental health while also providing other beneficial nutrients. Those following plant-based diets may need to pay special attention to getting enough zinc from vegetarian sources like beans, nuts, and fortified cereals.

Should I take a zinc supplement for anxiety?

Research suggests zinc supplementation may help reduce anxiety, especially in those with low dietary intake or deficiency. However, there are a few factors to consider before taking zinc supplements:

  • Have your zinc levels tested first to identify if you need more zinc.
  • Try to get zinc through whole foods before using supplements.
  • Look for supplements with zinc gluconate, zinc citrate or zinc picolinate for better absorption.
  • Take ≤40 mg elemental zinc daily to avoid toxicity.
  • Monitor for potential side effects like nausea or headaches.
  • Check for interactions if taking medications or other supplements.
  • Talk to your doctor to see if zinc supplementation is appropriate for your needs.

While zinc shows promise as a complementary anti-anxiety treatment, more studies confirming long-term efficacy and safety are still needed. Work closely with your healthcare provider to determine if zinc supplementation is advisable as part of your anxiety management plan.


Zinc is an essential mineral that plays a critical role in brain health and mental well-being. Growing research indicates that adequate zinc levels may help lower anxiety through various mechanisms in the central nervous system. Clinical studies show that zinc supplementation can reduce anxiety, particularly in those with low zinc levels. However, excess zinc can also cause adverse effects. Getting sufficient zinc from food sources like oysters, meat, nuts, seeds, and legumes is ideal, but supplements may provide added anti-anxiety benefits in some cases. Work with your doctor to determine if zinc supplementation is appropriate for your anxiety management. While promising, more large-scale studies on zinc’s long-term efficacy and safety for anxiety disorders are still required. Overall, zinc may be a useful natural compound to help control anxious thoughts and feelings as part of an integrated treatment approach.

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