Zinc for Colds While Pregnant: How Much Is Too Much?

Dear Sue,

I have gotten into the habit of sucking on zinc lozenges every time someone in my family has a cold (which is every few weeks). This has warded off all many a cold, so I'm really into this natural remedy!

Now that I am trying to get pregnant again, is this inadvisable? How much zinc is too much when you are pregnant? I am taking prenatal vitamins with 25 mg zinc. The lozenges each have 13 mg and I would probably have 2-4 per day for a couple days, especially if I feel a sore throat coming on.

I also usually take Echinacea, but I suspect since this is an herbal medicine there is a gray area as to whether this is healthy during pregnancy. Was I correct to stop taking this?

Thanks for your help,
Laura

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Sue Gilbert

Sue Gilbert works as a consulting nutritionist. For many years she worked with Earth's Best Organic Baby Food, integrating nutrition and... Read more

Dear Laura,
Zinc is a critical nutrient, serving several key functions.
 

  1. Before Conception: To begin with, even before pregnancy, zinc is necessary for the formation of sperm (make sure your husband gets plenty!), ovum, ovulation and fertilization.
  2. During Pregnancy: Marginal deficiencies of zinc during pregnancy can result in spontaneous abortion, pregnancy related toxemia, premature or extended delivery, and prolonged labor. Certain birth defects are also related to minor zinc deficiencies.
  3. For the Baby: Zinc is highly involved in all phases of growth of the fetus, stabilizes the genetic code in each cell so that growth goes as planned, and is a component of insulin which helps regulate the glucose needed by baby, and much more.

The daily requirement for zinc during pregnancy is 15 milligrams. Your supplement is therefore, giving you all that you need for pregnancy requirements.

Zinc and Colds:

A little extra does enhance the immune system, but too much could backfire.
When you suck on zinc lozenges and decrease your incidence of colds, you are experiencing the action of a little extra zinc enhancing the immune system. Too much zinc (over time) can actually backfire, suppressing immunity. Regular ingestion of more than 50 mg of zinc can also cause interference with the absorption of other nutrients, causing secondary deficiencies. Copper is one such mineral whose absorption is depressed with too much zinc. Although zinc has a low toxicity for humans, The National Academy of Science actually warns against zinc supplements of more than 15 mg daily without medical supervision. Your pre-natal supplement falls under that category, and so is okay. The problem with too much zinc comes from a continued ingestion of excessive doses. The extra zinc that you take should not be a problem, however, because you are not taking it on a daily, or even weekly basis. Nonetheless, the additional 26 mg you get from two zinc lozenges should be cleared with a quick phone call to your doctor.

In light of the current advise for women to take plenty of folate during pre-pregnancy and early pregnancy, it is important to know that high supplements of folate can block intestinal absorption of zinc, creating a potentially dangerous deficiency. To avoid such a problem, limit your intake of folate to not more than 800mg. Because of this potential interference, it may be absolutely fine, if not advisable to get a little extra zinc. A couple of zinc lozenges of 13 mg/each 2x a day, plus the 25 mg. in your supplement give you a potential total of 51 mg in a day. So long as this is only a once in a while occurrence, it seems like a safe practice, but again, you should speak with your doctor to be sure.

Pregnancy involves a lot of risk/benefit analysis and a lot of thinking that you didn't have to do before. A couple of zinc tablets once in a while to ward off a cold may be a good idea -- you may be able to avoid feeling miserable, having to make decisions about which cold medicines you may or may not take, or if you want to take any medication for that sore throat, etc. Plus it may leave you feeling better so you can eat and drink better and get the sleep and exercise you need. The additional zinc should not cause the difficulties of secondary deficiencies or depressed immunity if it is not a daily practice. You are wise to ask the question, and would be even wiser to double check with the doctor.

Herbal supplements are best to leave alone during pregnancy. Because there is no standard of identity, nor any guarantee of purity, and because potency is unpredictable, it is best to pass them up.

If you would like to boost your immunity why not try some other nutritional means? Six ounces of yogurt a day is proven to boost immunity, if eaten daily. It takes a little while for the effect to occur if you are not a yogurt eater now , so the sooner you start, the better you will be able to avoid colds, etc. when you do become pregnant. Other foods that may stimulate immunity include garlic, foods rich in beta carotene, and a low-fat, vegetarian diet.

Good luck to you for a cold free, healthy pregnancy! Thanks for your question.

Sincerely,
Sue Gilbert

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