This review critically summarizes the literature on the spectrum of health effects of zinc status, ranging from symptoms of zinc deficiency to excess exposure. Studies on zinc intake are reviewed in relation to optimum requirements as a function of age and sex. Current knowledge on the biochemical properties of zinc which are critical to the essential role of this metal in biological systems is summarized. Dietary and physiological factors influencing the bioavailability and utilization of zinc are considered with special attention to interactions with iron and copper status. The effects of zinc deficiency and toxicity are reviewed with respect to specific organs, immunological and reproductive function, and genotoxicity and carcinogenicity. Finally, key questions are identified where research is needed, such as the risks to human health of altered environmental distribution of zinc, assessment of zinc status in humans, effects of zinc status in relation to other essential metals on immune function, reproduction, neurological function, and the cardiovascular system, and mechanistic studies to further elucidate the biological effects of zinc at the molecular level.