Zinc — a famously important part of the marketing for some daily vitamins, and a vitamin-level supplement that has been touted by experts for years.
You may have heard zinc mentioned in relation to medical concerns like low sex drive and low testosterone, and for good reason: there are many links saying that zinc can have important effects on those issues, which may greatly affect your quality of life.
But just because zinc is an essential mineral doesn’t mean it’s a wonder drug for your sexual function.
If you’re suffering from low T, zinc may be the help you’re looking for, but to understand who it will and won’t help, we first need to understand some basics about zinc’s purpose in your body.
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Zinc is an element, and it’s also a medication used for several purposes. Zinc supplements are important in the treatment of diarrhea, for example. In fact, the World Health Organization has warned of a global risk of zinc deficiency and named zinc as an essential treatment in the management of diarrhea — one that could help reduce child mortality rates.
But zinc is not all about your poop. In fact, it’s an important tool in the function of some organs, as well as part of your antibody response.
Because of this, healthy levels of zinc are important to child development — in addition to keeping immune function up, it’s also important for height and weight gain, as well as sexual development.
Zinc deficiency is a serious problem that can cause skin issues and reduce wound healing. But serum testosterone levels that are too high can cause digestive problems just like too little zinc can, as well as iron deficiency and copper deficiency.
But overdosing on zinc is rather difficult — the average adult can tolerate 40 mg of zinc per day — and experts largely consider it nontoxic.
The big problems, which can affect every part of your life, come when you don’t have enough of it. We need about 11 milligrams of zinc, but the human body doesn’t produce zinc, so you can’t really keep your zinc levels up without some external source of zinc, such as food sources or a dietary supplement. That’s why it’s important to look for foods with zinc, like meat and other protein-rich sources.
Adequate intake of zinc keeps you alive and healthy — and it may help your testosterone levels, too.
Zinc and testosterone are definitely related, and that’s evident from studies. It’s well established that severe and moderate zinc deficiencies are associated with hypogonadism —a low testosterone condition — in men.
Zinc is an important part of the male reproductive system and the endocrine system, which is the messenger system that regulates hormones. One of these hormones is, of course, testosterone.
One study called it an essential element in male fertility, specifically for the production of sperm. Zinc plays a key role in the fertility, production and quality of sperm for men. It also possesses antioxidant properties, protecting the system from oxidative stress.
Perhaps most importantly, zinc is considered a hormone balancer because of its role in the endocrine system, which regulates sex hormones. In that capacity, it plays an important role in testosterone production, the function of the prostate and prostate gland health — all super-important for your sexual health
One study from 1996 — though we’ll caveat it had a very small sample size —looked at men aged 20 to 80, and found that men with a dietary zinc restriction saw a significant decrease in the level of testosterone in their blood.
Experts recommend supplemental zinc for the treatment of hypogonadism, and some research shows that a dose of 220 mg of zinc sulfate (which delivers about 50 mg of zinc to the body) twice a day is enough to safely steer hypogonadism out to sea and boost those testosterone levels back to normal.
Still, there’s caution to be had here. As recently as 2020, the body of evidence in the space did not suggest that zinc was a cure for all types of hypogonadism or all low testosterone issues.
What that means is that, unless you know your zinc levels are deficient, it might make more sense to take a holistic approach to testosterone health.
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Testosterone levels can be boosted in a variety of ways, though diet, habits, lifestyle changes and supplements.
Research shows that many different types of protein sources, dairy products and oils can be natural testosterone boosters. Oysters, tuna, coconut, olive oil, milk, honey, whey protein, eggs and even garlic can all increase testosterone levels when consumed as part of a balanced diet.
Meanwhile, obesity and eating an unhealthy diet high in sugar and carbs and low in vegetables are both linked to low testosterone levels and hypogonadism — just another reason to make sure you’re keeping a healthy weight and eating your leafy greens.
Want to know more about the foods that can help out? Read our list of testosterone boosting foods.
Prescription testosterone replacement therapy may be an effective option for men with severely low testosterone levels. This testosterone therapy can be delivered in a variety of ways, from intranasal sprays and implants to capsules, gels and even patches.
If you think testosterone replacement therapy might be for you, it’s important to talk to a healthcare provider and make sure you stick to prescription therapies. Over-the-counter and other non-prescription testosterone can be ineffective at best and are often even dangerous.
Learn more about testosterone replacement therapy.
Zinc supplements aren’t the only supplements that may boost your levels of testosterone and sperm count. In addition to the benefits of zinc, clinical studies have shown that vitamin D, magnesium, d-aspartic acid and other supplements may have benefits for your sexual health.
Learn more from our blog about strategies for boosting your testosterone.
A supplemental mineral is probably only going to benefit you in treating a condition like testosterone deficiency if you’re deficient in that vitamin or mineral. In the big picture, testosterone deficiency isn’t a one-solution problem, because it’s not a one-cause problem.
A lot of other conditions and health issues can have an impact on your healthy testosterone levels, and it’s best not to try to self-diagnose or self-treat low T issues.
Instead, you’re better off talking to a healthcare professional about your concerns and taking their recommendations.
Healthcare providers are trained to help you root out the central cause and address the problem itself, not just symptoms. And while they may indeed have you add some zinc to your life, they may also direct you to one of the other pathways to better testosterone health we mentioned above.
If you’re experiencing (or think you’re experiencing) low testosterone levels, talk to a healthcare professional today and get the right treatment for you.
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Kristin Hall is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with decades of experience in clinical practice and leadership.
She has an extensive background in Family Medicine as both a front-line healthcare provider and clinical leader through her work as a primary care provider, retail health clinician and as Principal Investigator with the NIH.
Certified through the American Nurses Credentialing Center, she brings her expertise in Family Medicine into your home by helping people improve their health and actively participate in their own healthcare.
Kristin is a St. Louis native and earned her master’s degree in Nursing from St. Louis University, and is also a member of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. You can find Kristin on LinkedIn for more information.