Epilepsy Talk

Zinc Can Help You Think! | June 19, 2012

Zinc should be part of any balanced diet, but it also regulates signals in your brain. It’s been found to play a critical role in coordinating communication between cells in the brain, possibly governing the formation of memories and controlling the occurrence of epileptic seizures.

Researchers at Duke University Medical Center, published the results of a collaboration with Massachusetts Institute of Technology chemists that examines the role of zinc in neuron communication — the process that facilitates the brain’s functions. The study found that zinc plays a key role in signal transmission between neurons in the hippocampus — a zinc-enriched region of the brain responsible for learning and memory — and where disrupted communication may contribute to epilepsy.

The findings were published online in the journal Neuron.

“We discovered that zinc is essential to control the efficiency of communication between two critical populations of nerve cells in the hippocampus,” said James McNamara, M.D., senior author and chair of the Department of Neurobiology at Duke. “This addresses a longstanding controversy in the field.”

“The connection is a very fundamental finding from a clinical treatment point of view,” said Enhui Pan, co-author and assistant research professor in McNamara’s laboratory. “The finding could make some people think — now they’ll really have a direct application for epilepsy treatment.”

But balance is essential. Because, while zinc is critical to communication, over-communication by the brain cells highlighted in the study, was known to occur in epilepsy, pointing to a link between zinc and the condition. And when too much zinc accumulates, cells may become dysfunctional or die.

So, how much zinc should you take?

McNamara noted that zinc supplements are commonly sold over the counter to treat several different brain disorders, including depression. It isn’t clear whether these supplements modify zinc content in the brain, or modify the efficiency of communication between these nerve cells.

He emphasized that people taking zinc supplements should be cautious, pending needed information on the desired zinc concentrations and how oral supplements affect them.

The best sources of zinc from our diet are found in seafood such as oysters and crabmeat, red meat, poultry, baked beans, pecans, milk and fortified foods such as breakfast cereals. But, McNamara noted that altering zinc levels in an individual’s diet is unlikely to effectively combat neurological illness.

“The diets of the vast majority of Americans are likely to contain reasonable amounts of zinc,” McNamara said. “But I think it’s possible that the way the brain handles zinc may somehow be defective, even if you got normal amounts in your diet.”

The USDA recommended daily allowance, or RDA, varies based on age, gender and other considerations. The zinc RDA for adults 19 years of age and older is 11 mg for males and 8 mg for females, 11 mg for pregnant women and 12 mg for lactating women.

However, since anti-epilepsy medicine can affect zinc assimilation, for your recommended dose, it would be best to consult with your doctor.

In closing, McNamara said, “We want to drill down further and understand the various molecular events by which zinc enhances the efficiency of communication between neurons. We want to understand exactly how zinc does this.”












  1. Thanks for this post! The more I get older, the more I have to rethink how I eat with all the medications I’ve taken, especially because they alter how I eat, and therefore make me think. Clearly caused serious vitamin deficiency but this helps a lot! 🙂

    Eventually, I’d love figure out how to go on a complete (monitored) wholefoods diet, if possible? Is there any study on that relating to seizures other than the ketogenic diet? Just wondered.


    Comment by Liza — June 19, 2012 @ 11:07 AM

    • Hi Liza,

      Have you heard about the Modified Atkins Diet (M.A.D.) or the The Glutamate-Aspartate Restricted Diet (G.A.R.D.)?

      The M.A.D. diet is very user-friendly, especially when compared to the G.A.R.D. (which sounds like a death sentence!)

      For the low-down on all the diets, go to:

      Three anti-seizure diets that could change your life…



      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — June 19, 2012 @ 1:22 PM

      • Thanks Phylis! I will definitly have to think about it and discuss it with my doctor. It’s nice to hear about something that’s a little bit more friendlier than the other two that I’ve heard about and for adults. I have not heard about this diet yet!
        Even though you mentioned it’s gluten-free, MSG free and all that, I don’t eat pork or beef. Though have reconsidered it. So, that’s one of my biggest concerns. Is there anything I could substitute it with, to still get my protein intake, like chicken?
        Also, what about blood-types? Would food have anything to do with blood-type interaction that could trigger seizures? I know this is something that’s come up a lot in the conversations I’ve been having with friends about types of foods and even medications, and what actually works best for you. Could this actually answer more of our questions?


        Comment by Liza — June 20, 2012 @ 10:59 AM

  2. I don’t know about blood types, but I DO know that I can only eat chicken and fish and I’m fine. (I’m allergic to beef, pork, lamb — all mammals — get killer colitis).

    You might in interested in these articles:

    Brain Food for Your Health…


    Foods that fight stress…



    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — June 20, 2012 @ 11:36 AM

  3. I wonder if I am getting enough zinc in my diet everyday. I never monitor my intake, typically focusing on calcium and the letter vitamins. This is definitely food for thought, thank you.


    Comment by Anne — July 6, 2012 @ 10:39 AM

  4. I think you should take a bio-available supplement, because even though a healthy diet is key, we need to supplement to replace those vitamins that are either not fully absorbed or are eliminated from our system. Here are some more supplements you might consider:

    Brain Food for Your Health…


    On possible suggestion: http://www.iherb.com/Doctor-s-Best-PepZinGl-Zinc-L-Carnosine-Complex-120-Veggie-Caps/2467


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — July 6, 2012 @ 11:41 AM

  5. […] the complete story, click on: https://epilepsytalk.com/2012/06/19/zinc-can-help-you-think/ Share this:TwitterFacebookLinkedInLike this:LikeBe the first to like […]


    Pingback by Zinc Can Help You Think « epilepsyconnection — July 10, 2012 @ 11:43 AM

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    About the author

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    I've been a professional copywriter for over 35 years. I also had epilepsy for decades. My mission is advocacy; to increase education, awareness and funding for epilepsy research. Together, we can make a huge difference. If not changing the world, at least helping each other, with wisdom, compassion and sharing.

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