Could Zinc Deficiency Be Robbing You of Your Taste and Smell?

Last week, I published a post that I had found research indicating that my lack of smell might be related to zinc deficiency. This week, I want to give a high level overview of how zinc might be impacting your life and give you some great resources if you want to learn more about it.

Zinc is an essential trace mineral that we obtain through our diet. It is so essential for the body that many articles claim that it is involved in up to 300 of the body’s enzyme processes. It is extremely important in the production of prostaglandins (PG). PGs are needed for many bodily processes, such as immune system function, skin and wound healing, inflammation, the cardiovascular system, and many more.

Signs of Zinc Deficiency

Doctors usually diagnose zinc deficiency by getting an overall picture of your life factors, understanding your current symptoms, and then confirming it with one of the various zinc medical tests. The major life factors that doctors are usually looking for related to zinc deficiency are vegan-ism, total calorie intake (low is bad), alcoholism (zinc is needed to metabolize alcohol), physical activity level (high activity depletes zinc), digestive diseases, and other autoimmune diseases.

Is Leaky Gut Making You Sicker?


To zoom in further, let’s take a look at any possible symptoms related to zinc. The hard part of trying to correlate symptoms with zinc deficiency is that zinc supports so many of the body’s functions. There isn’t one main symptom that can raise a flag for zinc, but rather the symptoms must be observed in context with the patient’s life factors. This pattern can be hard to see, so it is easy to become mildly zinc deficient and never put the pieces of the puzzle together.

The list of related symptoms for zinc deficiency is a mile long, but I think the questionnaire below does a good job of capturing most of the main symptoms. Answering yes to any of these questions indicates the possibility of zinc deficiency and means you should probably get your levels tested:

  • Have you lost much of your sense of taste and smell?
  • Do you have adult acne, even if you didn’t have it as a teenager?
  • Do you get frequent colds and flu, usually with an ear infection?
  • Is your hair going prematurely gray? Does it grow slowly? Is your hair texture dry with brittle ends?
  • Do your nails have white flecks? Do they peel and fray easily? Do they grow abnormally slowly? Do they have hard ridges either vertical or horizontal?
  • Do you have an enlarged prostate (BPH) or prostatitis?
  • Is your skin dry and cracked? Do you get fungal skin infections? Do cuts or rashes heal slowly? Do you sunburn easily?
  • Have you been diagnosed with macular degeneration? Are your eyes overly sensitive to sunlight?
  • Does your body have trouble with sugar balance? Do you have diabetes or hypoglycemia?
  • Do you have a history of low sperm counts? Have you ever suffered from impotence or erection problems?
  • Do you often get herpes-type mouth sores? Are your lips regularly dry, cracked or chapped?

For reference, I have the relevant life factors of digestive disorders and high physical activity levels. My symptoms of possible zinc deficiency are a loss of smell, adult acne, prematurely grey hairs (at least I hope so I’m only 24!), fingernail ridges / white spots and regularly chapped lips.

How Do I Get Tested?

If you identified with any of the life factors that could result in zinc deficiency, and/or you found several symptoms that might correlate to zinc deficiency, it would be good idea to confirm the deficiency and get an approximate level.

It is intuitive to think to pick up the phone and call your doctor, because, for most minerals, a blood test is the golden standard to confirm deficiency. Unfortunately, with zinc it isn’t that simple. The problem is zinc supports so many bodily processes that there is quite a bit of disagreement between what serum, plasma, red/white cell zinc level or zinc metalloenzyme studies (zinc dependent enzymes) levels indicate.

From the research, I’ve found the best test to confirm zinc deficiency is actually the Zinc tally taste test. It gets even better; this is a test that could be done at home on the cheap!

The test involves taking a small amount of zinc solution and holding in your mouth for usually 10 seconds (up to 30 seconds) depending on strength of the solution. You can make your own solution at home if you desire, or you can buy some zinc tally solution that is already pre-mixed. I chose the latter route, as I don’t have the patience or equipment to sterilize and perform chemistry experiments in my apartment.

The test is relatively straightforward and being honest with the time and the change in taste sensations is the only thing required to perform it correctly. Just like any home self-diagnostic test, it is a good idea to perform the test at least 3 separate times on 3 different days (to remove most biases). It is also important that if you find yourself deficient and decide to supplement with zinc that you continue to self-test and track what is happening.

Replenishing Zinc Stores

After my self-testing, I believe I’m somewhere between level 1 and level 2 zinc deficiency. The good thing about

Zinc Supplementation

replenishing zinc stores is it appears that it can happen relatively quickly. The recommendations I’ve found suggest 150mg a day for people who are level 1 and 100mg a day for level 2 and 50mg a day for level 3 and usual length of supplementation is 3 to 6 weeks.

For my supplementation, I’m going to shoot for 100mg a day and the protocol to use when starting to supplement with zinc is to start slow and slowly build your dosage. I found some 50mg tablets that might be SCD legal (use at your own risk!). I started the first week at one pill a day and then the next week I will start taking 2 pills a day (or 100mg). If you were going to 150mg, you wouldn’t get to that dosage  until the 3rd week when following this protocol.

I’ve got a couple things for you to remember. Acute zinc toxicity results in the following symptoms: nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and headaches. Chronic zinc toxicity is also something to worry about if you plan on long-term supplementation. Zinc can, in high dosages of 150mg-450mg a day, cause low copper and affect iron levels. This is why it’s recommended to not exceed 150mg a day unless under a doctor’s observation and continue to do weekly zinc tally tests to know when to stop supplementing.

As always, it is best to take this information and present it to your doctor, as he/she might have other ways of helping you sort with your symptoms. It is also good to remember that zinc works synergistically with magnesium, vitamin B6, and plays a large role in stomach acid (HCL) production. So, if supplementing with zinc does not cure your symptoms, following one of these other paths may lead to your answer.

I’d love to hear from anyone else who is experimenting with zinc!


Steven Wright

About Steven Wright

Steve Wright is a health engineer and author. In 2009, he reached a breaking point when IBS took over his life and the doctors didn't know how to help. Since then, he has transformed his health and started to help others naturally heal stomach problems. You can check out his story here and find him on Google+, Facebook or Twitter.

Is Your Body Secretly
Suffering from a Leaky Gut?

Take this 3-minute quiz to find out if you have the #1 problem missed by modern medicine...

Take the Quiz NOW
(NOTE: The results of this quiz could save your life)

28 thoughts on “Could Zinc Deficiency Be Robbing You of Your Taste and Smell?

  1. Avatar
    Marilyn Zanelli says:

    I have the opposite hypersensitivity of smell I have to wear a mask have any chicken or meat since November can hardly eat anything but carbs. Cook can’t go to a restaurant where a mass to work look ridiculous I am looking for something to help

  2. Avatar

    Hello everybody, I lost my sense of smell way back in 2009 due to an untreated sinus infection though I could still taste. Had an operation in 2011 to clear some blocked sinuses and dr prescribed me some saline and soda to wash my sinuses but the sense of smell never returned. Had a second opeation in 2012 with the same procedures again and it never came back. Suffered an anxiety attack because of this, life had been hell…
    2 years ago I started zinc therapy (elemental zinc 50mg , 3 times daily ) for 3 months and my sense of smell returned a little though I could still not be able to smell ‘subtle’ scents like worn clothes, leather bags etc… Barely 1 month ago, I took Vit D3 with Vit K2 (5000iu and 50mcg) once a day, gosh , my sense of smell came back almost 100%
    (I’m still taking zinc 50mg once a day), I plan to cut down Vit D with K2 to every alternate day. Hope my experience would help you all

  3. Avatar

    This is my last post. It’s been over two years, and a long journey since I lost a large portion of taste and smell. I tried all sorts of remedies, but in the end time was a better healer. I would say today I’ve regained 75% or so of all taste and smell. Some favorites of mine never fully recovered. Coffee, gin and tonic, peanuts, etc still taste odd. But, I can taste! I rarely think about it now, but it still affects me. Most foods taste normal (though not as flavorful) and thankfully I can taste cheese again. Even smells come to me easily, but I’m less sure of what I am smelling. I never questioned that in my life before this happened. Sadly, I can’t taste those delicious subtleties of food or drink.
    I hope with time I’ll regain more but likely I’ll never get 100% back. Still, I am ok with what I have. In the end zinc seem to offer a small and temporary bump in my taste/smell. But it was so off and on its hard to say how much. It gave me hope though!

  4. Avatar

    Hi Steve, I had an allergy/ sinus issue back in late july. Starteg loosing my taste then. Went and got some saline spray and a netti pot, helped some but not alot. Finalky went to the dr and got a antibiotic helped with the sinus infection so then I saw on here about taking zinc 50 mg pills so I started that one week ago this monday. It is tring to get some better but not fast enough for me. Some things still smell and taste weird but some things taste funky. I read where you can put a drop of warm castor oil in each nostril once in the morning and once at night to help, what do you think? How long after taking zinc does it normally take to get everything back on track? Thanks for all your help.

    • Avatar

      Hi Cindy -as Steve and Jordan like to say, you didn’t get sick overnight, and it’s unlikely for you to heal overnight! The best advice we can offer is to give the zinc a few weeks to work as you’ve noticed improvements after only one week (that is AWESOME!)

      Hope this helps and you’re tasting and smelling much better very soon!

  5. Avatar

    I have lost my sense of taste and smell for 16 months now..l can not sMell or taste a thing…l had virus and they never returned..l don’t smoke…no allergies and every scan look test mri under the sun…l am living a life of hell aND have always been into vitamins as well….salt rinses steriods l have had it all…living like this daily is absolute hell..
    If anyone has had this or has regained their sense….could you pls post…..what make the difference and how long it took

    • Avatar

      I wrote earlier about my wife who is going through this nightmare like you, after seeing numerous doctors, she is now been under dr Henkin in Washington DC. We live in Houston, and flown there twice. He has used zinc before on patients and had success! But tests have shown that my wife doesn’t have a zinc deficiency, so he has her on thioridazine for distortions for the last 10 months. Some days are bearable but some are pure hell! Any suggestions from anyone are appreciated! Larry

  6. Avatar

    I lost my taste and smell after a week long sinus drip turned into a cold, then bronchitis. It paritially returned after a week but I’ve had little progress since. (4months now) An ENT said it might take time before it returns, but so far it hasn’t and now things I can smell don’t smell right. Coffee is one of the worst, but even peanut butter smells bad. My smell and taste is generally weak or I smell an odd odor in the air which is awful. Like a few others here, I am going to try zinc, alpha lipoic acid and diet changes. I have no idea if it will work, but worth trying! I also have done saline nasal rinsing, which helps keep my sinus clear. Apparently when this happens there isn’t much that can be done, if there is no underlying cause. I remember an aunt had this happen, also after bronchitis, and she never did regain it. That was in the 70’s but I do remember she tried zinc which was thought might help her. Also, my father lost his smell after bronchitis, although he says he can taste fine he can’t smell at all. I think this problem is more common than I ever knew.
    I miss tasting cheese, nuts, coffee and most meats. I can taste some fruits and vegetables and fish, and most anything sweet. Thank goodness I can still taste carrot cake!
    I’ll post again in a few months to update my progress. If anyone has success, please post. Thanks!

    • Avatar

      It’s been over a year now, and only a little progress. I tried zinc for few months, but didn’t notice much improvement. I’ve adjusted to the changes, but it is still something I think about when selecting food. I try to choose foods with strong favors. I’d guess just small improvements over the past year. I’ve stared with the zinc again and will take for 6 months this time. Will update afterwards.

  7. Avatar

    I lost my smell and taste after sinus/ear tube surgery in ’07. I am now 49. Going to try zinc and lipoic acid. I am desperate. It goes away for a month, then comes back. I hate this so much.

  8. Avatar

    I came upon this site while researching the use of zinc to restore loss of smell and taste. This past winter I had several bad bouts of colds, bronchitis, etc. I had coughing that lasted weeks. Since late April I can no longer taste or smell, but seem to occasionally get a bad smell of something burnt in my nose. We do burn wood alot, and once or twice while loading my woodstove late winter-early spring I got a face full of smoke, but we’ve burned firewood for over 35 years and this is the first time I’ve lost my sense of taste and smell. Pollen has been bad this year too, but again, I’ve lived with it for years and never had any real problems. I make soap for a living, and now I cannot even smell the essential oils I use in the soaps. I’ve tried steam inhalation, irrigating my sinuses with warm water, salt and baking soda, and put warm castor oil drops in my nose twice daily, still no luck. I have not had any head injuries, and I do see a chiropractor 3 times a week for back and hip issues. I’m at my wits end and am thinking of trying some zinc, just not sure how much to take. My diet is pretty good, I try to eat wholesome locally grown foods and am not a junk food person. I am surprised at how many other people seem to suffer from loss of taste and smell. For the first time in my life I can’t smell my roses, lilacs, or anything else. I can taste salt, sweet, bitter, sour etc, but no flavors of any kind. Any suggestions in addition to zinc would be greatly appreciated as this is now affecting my livelihood.

  9. Avatar

    I’m so glad I came across this website , I lost my sense of smell 8 months ago and my doctors are trying to find the reasons . I had a MRI on my brain just yesterday , my ENT doctor suggested taking zinc pills until we get the results . I understand now why , this is so much better than another website that suggested my loss of smell was an indicator that I was going to die in the next 5 years 🙁

  10. Avatar

    I started supplementing with 50mg of Elemental Zinc (from 388mg of Zinc gluconate pills) last week.

    This morning I’ve noticed my sense of smell has improved – I walked past a pine tree that I’ve passed hundreds of times – and I smelled a very faint but fragrant pine odor. I had never noticed that trees fragrance before today.

    On a side note, I would like to point out, anyone who eats a lot of vegetables like me, is getting tons and tons of copper in their diet, so since zinc naturally reduced cooper (and therefore the effects of copper toxicity – see Weston A Price Foundation Copper-Zinc Imbalance: I’m guessing it’s extremely healthy to take a zinc supplement!

  11. Avatar

    The link “there is quite a bit of disagreement between what serum, plasma, red/white cell zinc level or zinc metalloenzyme studies (zinc dependent enzymes) levels indicate.” above is broken.

    Do you have a copy of the PDF? I recently got a copper-zinc blood test and scored normal despite a borderline positive pyroluria test and would like to know more regarding the accuracy of zinc tests.

  12. Avatar

    Hi Steven,
    Thank you for the article and for sharing the information. I am a 43 female and lost my sense of smell about 8-10 years ago and got frustrated with the medical industry to try to find answers….About 6-7 years ago I saw an ENT/Neurologist (had a cat scan and MRI) with no real diagnosis or understanding with why this was happening…I was paying this out of pocket as my insurance deductible was not met. I am in great health and barely ever go to a doctor except for this issue. Lots of sites refer as head injury (not applicable in my case) as a cause of loss of smell…but others refer to malnutrition as a possible cause…
    Every once in a while I look things up online to see if there are any answers. There is a doctor in DC (Doctor Robert Henkin, smell&taste clinic- i think) that associated the lack of zinc (malnutrition) to loss of smell…This is making me consider checking if i do have a low zinc…and pursue finding my own diagnosis….Do you know if one can get this from real food then a supplement?
    It will also be great if you can keep us posted if it works for you…
    Thanks again for sharing the great information.

    • Steven Wright

      @ Samy – Sure, I’d love to help out. So yes, I think the problem can be 2 – fold. There can be an actual restriction in the airways, usually from inflamed sinus that I believe are mostly triggered by poor food choices. However or in addition there is also the possibility of a spinal alignment aspect that you might want to check with a qualified chiropractor. And then there is the nutritional problem. Zinc can be easily depleted in our current society. If you don’t want to do supplements, the best food to eat once a week is oysters try that for 8 weeks straight once a week and let me know if it helps.

      As I’ve healed and lowered my inflammation levels, supplemented with zinc my smelling has been back and for the most part better than ever.

    • Avatar

      Sammy, my wife has not been able to smell or taste for two and a half years! We’ve been to 6 ENTS and she’s been given 2 surgeries, and a few others that haven’t been successful YET. We live in Houston Texas and we’ve driven to Austin last year to be under dr devere.. there was no success there at all. We’ve flown to Washington DC twice in the past year( he’s not on our insurance either), but we have confidence that his therapy( treatment at dc and the medication he has my wife on ) will be sucessful!! Dr henkins has spent his life on this(50 years) and he’s very compassionate!! Do not give up, my wife had those days of mental depression many times. It’s hard to hear all the bad conclusions from doctors. Write back when you want! We are Christians and many prayers are being prayed for her. Also remember that patience is a must! Larry Elliott

  13. Avatar

    What are your thoughts on zinc-carnosine?

    There seems to be a lot of research especially from Japan about that combo.

    I have had a lot of success with Bitters, Betaine HCL, Digestive Enzymes, and Probiotics thanks to you guys and Chris Kresser. Wondering if Zinc-Carnosine would fit into the list of supplements that can help digestion and healing the gut?

    • Steven Wright
      Steven Wright says:

      @ Jeff – I think it’s a great supplement if you have leaky gut or have a zinc deficiency. If your going to use it make sure to monitor your zinc levels either using serum zinc levels or the zinc talley taste test. You might think about taking some copper with it to balance it out.

  14. Avatar
    Steven Wright says:

    Carol – I would encourage you to perform the zinc tally test so you will have a better understanding if and at what dosages zinc supplementation is for you. After performing the test, I would encourage you to re-read the zinc supplementation studies, In my research I never found an article or study suggesting that zinc supplementation reduces HDL and everything I read suggest zinc BOOSTS immune function.

    During my research I did find that copper and iron levels or functions can be affected through zinc supplementation (the links are in the post above). However I think its important to point out the one study was using daily dosages of 150-450 mg or zinc and the other was a long term study in excess of 10 weeks of supplementing with zinc. The plan I outline above is only a short term supplementation plan of zinc to refresh any body storage issues (3-6 weeks). If copper absorption does concern the individual it would be wise to then supplement with 2-4mg of copper a day during zinc supplementation (my multivitamin from GI Pro Health contains 2mg of copper).

    Some people may need long term supplementation of zinc at which point consulting with a doctor to make sure copper and iron levels stay healthy is the best idea.

  15. Avatar

    I have the symptoms but fear the corrective treatment because, confirming what you say, have read that you should be careful in taking zinc supplements because too much of zinc can be potentially harmful to your body. It has been reported that intake of more than 50 milligrams of zinc (both from diet and from supplements) can lead to improper copper metabolism, altered iron function, reduction of HDL’s (good cholesterol) and reduced immune function.

Leave a Reply