Zinc supplementation or regulation of its homeostasis: advantages and threats

Biol Trace Elem Res. 2007 Oct;119(1):1-9. doi: 10.1007/s12011-007-0043-7.


To accomplish its multifunctional biological roles, zinc requires precise homeostatic mechanisms. There are efficient mechanisms that regulate zinc absorption from the alimentary tract and its excretion by the kidney depending on the organism demands. The regulatory mechanisms of cellular zinc inflow, distribution, and zinc outflow are so efficient that symptoms of zinc deficiency are rare, and symptoms connected with its massive accumulation are even more rare. The efficiency of homeostatic mechanisms that prevent zinc deficiency or excessive zinc accumulation in the organism is genetically conditioned. It seems that an essential element of zinc homeostasis is the efficiency of zinc transmembrane exchange mechanisms. Intracellular free zinc concentration is higher than in extracellular space. Physiologically, the active outflow of zinc ions from the cell depends on the increase of its concentration in extracellular space. The ion pumps activity depends on the efficiency by which the cell manages energy. Considering the fact that zinc deficiency accelerates apoptosis and that excessive zinc accumulation inside cells results in a toxic effect that forces its death brings about several questions: Is intensification and acceleration of changes in zinc metabolism with age meaningful? Is there a real zinc deficiency occurring with age or in connection with the aforementioned pathological processes, or is it just a case of tissue and cell redistribution? When discussing factors that influence zinc homeostasis, can we consider zinc supplementation or regulation of zinc balance in the area of its redistribution? To clarify these aspects, an essential element will also be the clear understanding of the nomenclature used to describe changes in zinc balance. Zinc homeostasis can be different in different age groups and depends on sex, thus zinc dyshomeostasis refers to changes in its metabolism that deviate from the normal rates for a particular age group and sex. This concept is very ample and implies that zinc deficiency may result from a low-zinc diet, poor absorption, excessive loss of zinc, zinc redistribution in intra- and extracellular compartments, or a combination of these factors that is inadequate for the given age and sex group. Such factor or factors need to be considered for preventing particular homeostasis disorders (or dyshomeostasis). Regulation of zinc metabolism by influencing reversal of redistribution processes ought to be the main point of pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic actions to reestablish zinc homeostasis. Supplementation and chelation are of marginal importance and can be used to correct long-term dietary zinc deficiency or zinc poisoning or in some cases in therapeutic interventions. In view of its biological importance, the problem posed by the influence of zinc metabolism requires further investigation. To date, one cannot consider, for example, routine zinc supplementation in old age, because changes of metabolism with age are not necessarily a cause of zinc deficiency. Supplementation is warranted only in cases in which deficiency has been established unambiguously. An essential element is to prevent sudden changes in zinc metabolism, which lead to dyshomeostasis in the terms defined here. The primary prophylaxes, regular physical activity, efficient treatment of chronic diseases, are all elements of such prevention.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aging
  • Female
  • Homeostasis
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Zinc / adverse effects
  • Zinc / deficiency
  • Zinc / metabolism*


  • Zinc