What is Zinc Chelate?

A vitamin cap bottle on a mat.
A vitamin cap bottle on a mat. (Image: thelefty/iStock/Getty Images)

When zinc is combined with amino acids or other organic acids, the result is a zinc chelate. The chelating agent boosts the amount of zinc absorbed into your system, which is important because zinc helps produce proteins and supports the immune system. While zinc is safe for most people, it's best to talk to your doctor before using supplements if you take prescription medications.

Chelated vs. Regular Zinc

Chelation occurs when an organic substance binds with a mineral. Zinc chelates are made by attaching zinc to two groups of organic substances: amino acids or other organic acids, such as citric acid.

The benefit of chelated zinc is that the organic substances help carry zinc through the intestinal wall and into your bloodstream.

Regular forms of zinc may be combined with other substances to form supplements like zinc oxide and zinc sulfate. However, because these aren't connected to amino acids or organic acids, they're not chelated zinc.

Types of Zinc Chelates

Supplements that carry the generic name “chelated zinc” are made from zinc attached to an amino acid. Some brands don’t mention the name of the amino acid. Other brands report the amino acid in the supplement facts or include it in the product’s name.

Examples of zinc and amino acid chelates include zinc monomethionine and zinc glycinate, which contain zinc bound with methionine and glycine respectively.

When the chelating agents are organic acids other than amino acids, the acid’s name is always part of the supplement’s name.

Some of the most common chelates include zinc picolinate, zinc gluconate, zinc citrate and zinc orotate, which are made from picolinic acid, gluconic acid, citric acid and orotic acid respectively.

Zinc Content Varies

Each type of chelated zinc contains a different amount of elemental zinc. For example, zinc picolinate has almost double the amount of elemental zinc than zinc gluconate, reports MedlinePlus.

Because the amount of zinc varies, the best way to choose a supplement is to check the label, which reports the amount of zinc per dose, and go with the supplement that provides the amount of zinc you need.

Absorption Rate of Chelates

Research completed to date hasn’t produced a definitive answer about which chelating agent does the best job of enhancing absorption, reports Colorado State University Extension.

A study published in February 2014 in the Journal of Nutrition found that absorption was equal in zinc citrate and zinc gluconate supplements, while both were better than non-chelated zinc oxide. An earlier study reported that zinc glycinate and zinc gluconate were absorbed better than zinc picolinate and zinc oxide, according to the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology in March 2008.

Recommended Daily Intake

Women should consume 8 milligrams of zinc daily, and men need 11 milligrams, notes the Linus Pauling Institute. Be careful not to consume more than the safe upper amount established by the Institute of Medicine -- 40 milligrams daily -- or you might increase the risk of a copper deficiency.

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