Zinc is a trace mineral that plays a vital role in many aspects of human health. These processes include growth, immunity, and reproduction.
Zinc is vital to the development and function of the male sex organs. Males with zinc deficiency have been shown to have less developed testes and reduced sperm count.
Zinc helps produce key sex hormones, such as testosterone and prolactin. Zinc also enables the creation of the main component of prostatic fluid.
There is evidence that dietary zinc may impact male sexual competency. In one study, rats receiving a moderate daily oral dose of zinc sulphate showed an increase in time before ejaculation and penile thrusting.
Zinc supplements have also been cited as a potential treatment for ED in those with long-term kidney disease.
ED is when the penis has difficulty becoming or staying erect during sex. According to the American Urological Association, ED affects an estimated 30 million men in the United States.
Most cases of ED are caused by a combination of physical and emotional factors.
Physical factors, such as high blood sugar and cholesterol, reduce blood flow, which limits penile firmness. Physical factors such as stress can decrease sexual desire or confidence. Serious illnesses, especially those affecting hormone regulation and blood systems, can also lead to ED.
Many with ED also experience additional symptoms such as delayed or premature ejaculation.
Common causes of ED include:
- cardiovascular disease
- lack of exercise
- high blood pressure
- high blood sugar
- high cholesterol
- drug or alcohol use
- obesity or metabolic syndrome
- nerve damage
- spinal cord injury
- sexual performance anxiety
- relationship, family, or workplace conflict
In more recent years, zinc deficiency has also been linked to ED.
An estimated 17 percent of the global population is thought to suffer from zinc deficiency. Symptoms of zinc deficiency include loss of energy, poor appetite, slow healing wounds, long-term respiratory infections, acne, dermatitis, and psoriasis.
The symptoms of zinc deficiency vary greatly with severity.
Cases of severe zinc deficiency are considered rare. They are often caused by genetic disorders or illnesses, but can take a serious toll on health.
Moderate cases of zinc deficiency are relatively common and typically associated with an imbalanced or poor diet. Some 2 billion people in the developing world are thought to have mild to moderate zinc deficiencies.
The symptoms of moderate zinc deficiency are often similar to those of severe cases. Moderate cases of zinc deficiency are not normally life-threatening for healthy adults but can greatly impair the development of young children.
Many of the symptoms of zinc deficiency and the condition itself are linked to additional health disorders. Symptoms of zinc deficiency include:
- slowing or stopping of growth
- weak immune system
- delayed or incomplete sexual maturity
- sensory impairment
- loss of appetite
- long-term diarrhea
- skin rashes
- hair loss or thinning
- mental tiredness
Those at the greatest risk of zinc deficiency are pregnant women, young children, and those over 65.
Most cases of zinc deficiency are caused by improper nutrition and most are the direct result of diet. Strict vegetarians are at greater risk of developing a zinc deficiency because zinc is found predominantly in meat and shellfish.
Legumes and some cereal grains also contain phytic acid, which blocks zinc absorption. Malnourishment or starvation can also lead to zinc deficiency.
Certain conditions that can interfere with the absorption of zinc include:
Medications that reduce intestinal absorption can also lead to a zinc deficiency.
Diagnosing zinc deficiencies is challenging because zinc is involved in too many biological processes to have a unique biological fingerprint. Zinc levels are often determined by plasma or serum tests.
Zinc is a really important dietary mineral and it is vital for good health. A trace mineral, zinc plays a vital role in many aspects of human health, including growth, immunity, reproduction and sense perception.
The best way to get zinc into the body is through natural sources that are found in food. It is easy to include zinc in a diet because it is found in a large number of foods. It is found in most things that contain iron, with the exception of milk products.
Other foods that contain high levels of zinc include:
- shellfish, particularly cooked oysters
- toasted wheat germ
- cooked lean beef and veal liver
- toasted pumpkin, sesame, and squash seeds
- dark chocolate
- fortified cereals, although not those with high sugar levels
- soya beans, lima beans, and green beans
- nuts, particularly cashews
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend meeting daily zinc needs through diet. Most Americans meet their zinc needs by consuming meats, such as beef and pork, and legumes.
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for zinc depends on age and gender. Measurements are in milligrams (mg).
|Age||Female (mg/day)||Male (mg/day)|
|0 – 6 months||2||2|
|7 months – 3 years||3||3|
|4 – 8 years||5||5|
|9 – 13 years||8||8|
|14 – 18 years||9||11|
Mineral supplements and medications are available for those unable to get enough zinc through diet. However, supplements are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and may not be labeled correctly, or may be contaminated with other minerals.
People taking zinc supplements should ensure they buy them from reputable dealers and always check appropriate levels with their doctor.
Zinc is a commonly included ingredient in most multivitamins but is also sold separately in pill or capsule forms. Some of these supplements have known side effects. For example, zinc sulphate, which is the cheapest over-the-counter form of the mineral, is known to irritate the stomach.
Some prescription zinc supplements exist such as Mercola and Galzin. In some cases, zinc injections are recommended. But this will only occur once a doctor has assessed an individual’s zinc levels, which can be tested through blood, urine or hair samples.
Before taking zinc supplements, people with ED should speak with their doctor. A testosterone test can help signal whether zinc supplementation may be beneficial.
There are some guidelines regarding levels of zinc supplementation that are specific to sexual dysfunction. Anybody with ED who is considering taking zinc supplements must talk to their doctor first to discuss options and doses. Taking too much zinc can also cause health problems.
Safety precautions for zinc supplements
The U.S. Food and Nutrition Board warn adults not to consume more than 40 mg of zinc daily to avoid side effects or toxicity.
Common symptoms of mild zinc toxicity include gut problems, such as cramping, diarrhea, and nausea. More severe zinc toxicity can also cause headaches, fever, loss of muscle coordination, and drowsiness.
People should take zinc supplements 1-2 hours after meals and should not take them at the same time as other mineral supplements, such as iron and copper.
Foods that contain phytic acid, such as cereals and whole grains, may reduce the absorption of zinc supplements. Foods rich in fiber and phosphorous may also reduce zinc absorption.
Zinc supplements may interact with several medications including diuretics and blood pressure medications. In particular, ACE inhibitors may be affected. A person who is taking medication for their blood pressure must discuss zinc supplementation with their doctor.