Zinc Gluconate Vs Zinc Picolinate - Types of Zinc Supplementation and Absorption

Zinc picolinate and zinc gluconate are forms of dietary supplements that we use to prevent zinc deficiency. Zinc is an essential mineral that our body can easily absorb. Therefore, if we do not get enough amount of zinc, we may have to take these dietary supplements as directed by the doctor. When choosing a zinc supplement, it’s important to consider the type of zinc, dosage, and supplement form.


There are several types of zinc supplements. Some, such as zinc picolinate, may be better absorbed, while zinc acetate may be more effective at shortening the duration of the common cold (SourceSource).

Supplements contain several forms of zinc, including zinc gluconate, zinc citrate and zinc picolinate. The percentage of elemental zinc varies by form. 

Chelated zinc is a general form of supplementary zinc in which the zinc is chelated — or bound — to a compound to make it easier for the body to absorb. Zinc picolinate or zinc gluconate are formed when zinc is chelated to picolinic acid or gluconic acid, so the main difference between zinc gluconate and picolinate is what compound it is bound to.

Different forms of zinc contain different amounts of elemental zinc, which refers to the weight of the zinc molecule by itself (Note: Product labels tend to mark the elemental weight)
  • Zinc citrate is approximately 34% zinc by weight. For a dose of 50mg elemental zinc, take 146 mg zinc citrate. (Examine)
  • Zinc sulfate consists 23% of elemental zinc; thus, 220 mg of zinc sulfate contains 50 mg of elemental zinc (NIH).
  • Zinc gluconate is approximately 13% zinc by weight. For a dose of 50mg elemental zinc, take 385 mg zinc gluconate. (Examine)
  • Zinc monomethionine is approximately 21% zinc by weight. For a dose of 50mg elemental zinc, take 238 mg zinc monomethionine. (Examine)
  • Zinc picolinate (20% of elemental zinc) (Metabolics
  • Zinc ascorbate (15%) (Metabolics
  • Zinc chloride (48%) (Metabolics
  • Zinc carbonate (52%) (Metabolics
  • Zinc bisglycinate (25%) (Metabolics
  • Zinc oxide (80%) (FamilyPractice). Although the percentage of elemental zinc is high, do take note that zinc oxide is one of the least bioavailable form.

What is Zinc Citrate?

This type of zinc is made when zinc is chelated with citric acid. A study found that when given as a supplement without food, zinc citrate absorption was comparable with that of zinc gluconate, and higher than zinc oxide.

Zinc citrate is the zinc salt of citric acid. This compound is well-known as a dietary supplement that is useful in preventing zinc deficiency. Typically, we take this orally as a capsule or as a tablet.

However, due to the presence of zinc, this may have a metallic taste. However, taking a small amount of beverage after taking the tablet can avoid this unusual taste. Moreover, this treatment may irritate the digestive tract, resulting in an upset stomach. Another important side effect is, we may get flu-like symptoms including fever, sore throat, chills, etc.

Zinc citrate is the form that's most commonly used in dental hygiene products like toothpaste and mouthwash to fight plaque and gingivitis.

Difference between zinc and zinc citrate? Zinc citrate has 34% elemental zinc. For a dose of 50mg elemental zinc, you need 146 mg zinc citrate. (Examine)

What is Zinc Gluconate?

This is the most common over-the-counter zinc supplement that’s found in your local drug or health food store. It’s made with gluconic acid is often found in oral supplements, nasal zinc sprays or lozenges. A meta-analysis indicates that zinc gluconate lozenges were able to reduce cold duration 28 percent.

Zinc gluconate is the zinc salt of gluconic acid. We can find gluconic acid in natural sources, but for the preparation of the supplement, industries produce gluconic acid via the fermentation of glucose by Aspergillus niger or some species of fungi.

More importantly, this compound is used to treat a common cold. We can use it in lozenges to treat the cold symptoms. When considering the side effects of this compound, anosmia (loss of smell) is a reported side effect. However, this compound is relatively safe than other zinc supplements.

What is Zinc Picolinate?

This chelated form of zinc salt is made with picolinic acid and is popular for oral use to reverse zinc deficiency. One study comparing the absorption of zinc picolinate, zinc citrate and zinc gluconate shows that there’s no significant change in any of these forms, but zinc picolinate did improve zinc absorption in humans.

Benefits of zinc picolinate supplements? According to Chris Masterjohn: 

I don’t recommend using zinc oxide or zinc picolinate. People are often surprised that I recommend against picolinate. So, in this episode (below), I explain why.

 

What is the Difference Between Zinc Citrate, Zinc Picolinate and Zinc Gluconate?

According to the Beth Israel Lahey Health Winchester Hospital, a person supplementing with zinc will find their best options in the form of zinc citrate, zinc acetate and zinc picolinate because these absorb the best. Zinc gluconate is not among the top three, but it is absorbed better than zinc oxide. As far as cost goes, zinc sulfate is the lowest-cost option among the supplements.

One difference between zinc gluconate and picolinate is that zinc gluconate, along with zinc acetate, has antiviral properties. This makes it a good form for making lozenges and nasal gels that don't contribute to the amount of iron digested and absorbed by the body, but it can fight viruses infecting the nose and throat.

The Mayo Clinic explains that zinc-based lozenges and syrups can be effective if they are used within the first 24 hours of the sign of symptoms. However, be careful — use of intranasal zinc has been linked with the loss of smell.

Although different forms of zinc have different amounts of elemental zinc that can be used by the body, the National Institutes of Health explains that there is not enough research indicating whether there are any superior forms in terms of absorption, bioavailability or tolerability.

One older study — published in the June 1987 issue of Agents Actions — did look at the effectiveness of three forms of zinc supplement and may shed a little bit of light on choosing zinc glycinate versus picolinate. The study looked at only 15 healthy human subjects who were divided into four groups. Over the course of four weeks, the four groups were tested with zinc picolinate, zinc citrate, zinc gluconate or a placebo.

Based on the zinc measurements in their hair, urine, erythrocyte and serum both before and after, zinc picolinate was the only form to raise zinc levels, at least in the hair, urine and erythrocyte. Do take note that the zinc measured in the hair, urine and erythrocyte (red blood cells) for zinc picolinate was in the form of zinc picolinate and not the free form of elemental zinc.

Based on these results, it seems as if zinc picolinate is most likely to absorb into a person's body, and zinc gluconate is the least likely. In terms of zinc glycinate versus picolinate, the picolinate wins this one. Still, more research would be needed to know more about zinc glycinate versus picolinate, especially because this study was done so long ago.

Difference between Zinc Citrate & Picolinate

One study comparing the absorption of zinc picolinate, zinc citrate and zinc gluconate shows that there’s no significant change in any of these forms, but zinc picolinate did improve zinc absorption in humans.

However, according to Chris Masterjohn: 

I don’t recommend using zinc oxide or zinc picolinate. People are often surprised that I recommend against picolinate. So, in this episode (video above), I explain why.

What is chelated zinc supplement?

Chelated zinc is a zinc supplement that’s easily absorbed by your body.

Because it’s difficult for your body to efficiently absorb zinc on its own, zinc is often attached to a chelating agent in supplements. A chelating agent is a substance that bonds with zinc to create a more absorbable end product.

Types of chelated zinc supplement

Chelated zinc is mainly made using one of the following compounds: amino acids or organic acids.

Amino acids
  • aspartic acid: used to make zinc aspartate
  • methionine: used to make zinc methionine
  • monomethionine: used to make zinc monomethionine
Organic acids
  • acetic acid: used to make zinc acetate
  • citric acid: used to make zinc citrate
  • gluconic acid: used to make zinc gluconate
  • orotic acid: used to make zinc orotate
  • picolinic acid: used to make zinc picolinate
Zinc supplements combining zinc with inorganic acids such as sulfates (zinc sulfate) and oxides (zinc oxide) are also available.

Key Practical Takeaway

If you think a zinc supplement is right for you, talk to your doctor about which form you should take. This is especially important because zinc can interfere with your body's absorption of copper and iron, so you might need to supplement those minerals as well.

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