Stomach Ulcers? Here’s why zinc is not enough…

Published on June 03, 2013 by Dr. Colin O'Brien

The short answer is that zinc carnosine is the best available form of zinc for digestive health according to the current research. As you’ve alluded to, there are many different forms of zinc. Zinc carnosine (ZnC) differs in that the carnosine portion is comprised of the amino acids beta-alanine and histidine. Other nutritional supplements containing zinc may be bound to a different molecule (such as zinc gluconate, zinc picolinate, zinc citrate and zinc oxide, to name a few). Each of these forms, like all other minerals, differ in their ability to be absorbed by the human body and many have unique applications. For example, zinc oxide is commonly found as a topical ingredient for eczema and/or sun protection, whereas other forms are used for oral administration. 

With this in mind, ZnC is the specific combination that has been studied heavily for its gastroprotective capabilities and its potential as a gastric ulcer treatment. In fact, ZnC has shown clinical application as an anti-ulcer drug for quite some time now in Japan. One study demonstrated that ZnC exhibits anti-ulcer healing abilities after 4-8 weeks of treatment (as high as 72% of subjects achieving “remarkable improvement”) (1). Another study showed that co-administration of ZnC with indomethacin (a Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug [NSAID]) decreased the subsequent gut permeability associated with NSAID use in humans when given alone. Rat studies confirm these findings, too (2).

The mechanism of action for ZnC appears quite complex and multi-targeted. L-carnosine on its own prevents gastric epithelial injury by inhibiting DNA fragmentation (3), whereas zinc and carnosine together act as an anti-oxidant, inducing the expression of Heat Shock Protein 72 (HSP72) and inhibiting Nuclear Factor kB (NF-kB) in the colonic mucosa (4) – all of which have cytoprotective effects on digestive organs. ZnC also acts to restore glutathione levels in injured gastric mucosa and inhibit proinflammatory cytokine production (such as Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha [TNF-a]).

Lastly, ZnC shows strong potential as an anti-Helicobacter pylori agent, thereby adding to its role as an anti-ulcer supplement because this stubborn bacteria often causes gastric ulcers. Triple therapy, the standard pharmaceutical treatment for H. pylori eradication, has been shown to be more efficacious when used in combination with ZnC than when compared to triple therapy alone (5). These results have been attributed to its bactericidal, anti-urease and anti-adhesive properties toward H. pylori specifically (6). Overall, the actions of ZnC, together as a unit, make it a suitable pairing for gastric mucosal protection and optimal gut health. 

So, the take home message here is that zinc carnosine has been studied extensively for gut health whereas other forms of zinc have not. In theory, other supplemental forms of zinc do have beneficial effects on the stomach (because zinc on its own is known to help with wound and tissue healing), but they do not have the research to support this affinity for the upper digestive tract the way that ZnC does. One study actually demonstrated that low blood levels of zinc is correlated with poor gastric membrane health (7) but for now, it is best to stick with ZnC if you would like the best gastroprotective and anti-ulcer effects. For these reasons, AOR’s “Gastro Relief” has included an optimal dosage of zinc carnosine, in combination with other nutrients known to benefit the health of the stomach.

  1. Matsukura T and Tanaka H. “Applicability of zinc complex of L-carnosine for medical use.” Biochemistry 2000;65(7):817-823
  2. Mahmood A, FitzGerald AJ, Marchbank T et al. “Zinc carnosine, a health food supplement that stabilises small bowel integrity and stimulates gut repair processes.” Gut 2007 Feb;56(2):168-175
  3. Suzuki H, Mori M, Seto K et al. “Polaprezinc, a gastroprotective agent: attenuation of monochloramine-evoked gastric DNA fragmentation.” J Gastroenterol. 1999;34(11):43–6
  4. Odashima M, Otaka M, Jin M et al. “Zinc L-carnosine protects colonic mucosal injury through induction of heat shock protein 72 and suppression of NF-kB activation.” Life Sciences 2006;79:2245–2250
  5. Kashimura H, Suzuki K, Hassan M et al. “Polaprezinc, a mucosal protective agent, in combination with lansoprazole, amoxicillin and clarithromycin increases the cure rate of Helicobacter pylori infection.” Aliment Pharmacol Ther 1999;13:483-487
  6. Sunair M, Tanaka N, Kuwayama H, Nakajima M. “Effect of Z-103, a new antiulcer agent, on Helicobacter pylori – antimicrobial, antiurease, and antiadhesive activities.” Jpn Pharmacol Ther 1994; 22(9):31-5
  7. Zhang WH, Wu XJ, Niu JX et al. “Serum zinc status and helicobacter pylori infection in gastric disease patients.” Asian Pacific J Cancer Prev 2012 13(10):5043-5046.