Five types of people who need more zinc (and why you're probably one of them)
There’s nothing sexy about zinc. It won’t give you a six-pack overnight, or set your libido on fire after a single dose. But if you’re not getting enough every day, you will feel the effects... in both of these departments, plus a whole lot more.
So how do you know if you need a higher dose of zinc in your supplement rotation? Aside from confirmed deficiency, here are five common conditions that usually warrant a daily boost:
1. You’re a guy. The prostate has the highest concentration of zinc — and a dip in zinc levels may have particularly troublesome implications for men. In fact, one 2011 study found that mean tissue zinc was 83% lower in guys with prostate cancer — and 61% lower in men with benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH — that is, an enlarged prostate).1 Blood levels of zinc showed a similar relationship, though less pronounced.
Zinc also allows more testosterone to be free in the system. So the association between zinc status and “low T” is no coincidence, either. And even marginal zinc deficiencies can spell disaster for aging men — which, fortunately, a simple supplement may be able to avert.
Research published in the journal Nutrition found a strong correlation between zinc levels and serum testosterone in men of all ages. In fact, the young men in this study saw serious dips in their testosterone levels after 20 weeks of dietary zinc restriction.2 (It bears repeating that we’re talking about young guys here — a population that should have no problem keeping T levels up.)
But this next finding is just as noteworthy: Among normal, marginally zinc-deficient older men, daily zinc supplementation for six months nearly doubled average serum testosterone concentration.
2. You’re older. If you’re over 65, you should know that nearly half of all people in your age group don’t get enough zinc. You also have a harder time processing the zinc you do take in. So male or female, you’re going to require a little extra as you age — or suffer the fallout.
Consider this brand new research from Oregon State University: Scientists found that declining zinc levels affect the activity of a cytokine called IL-6.3 This sends inflammation spiraling out of control. And it may also be a big part of the reason why chronic inflammatory conditions — like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer — are such common killers among people of a certain age.
But for men, at least, this is especially important, since — as I mentioned above — zinc deficiency can interfere with testosterone production. You’re already facing a natural decline in T levels with age. (A problem that comes with its own set of health risks.) So you really don’t want to add another handicap to the equation.
3. You’re on a PPI. That is, a proton pump inhibitor, like omeprazole — brand name, Prilosec. These popular over-the-counter heartburn drugs interfere with zinc absorption big time. And according to research, men on PPIs seem to be particularly vulnerable.
One 2012 study found that, within eight weeks of starting treatment with omeprazole, the number of male patients with zinc deficiency jumped from 16% to 50%.4 There was no significant difference in serum levels of any other trace minerals (including iron, calcium, phosphorus, or copper). And women didn’t experience as severe of a decline, either.
The takeaway? Guys with GERD — take your zinc.
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4. You’re going in for surgery. In fact, perioperative zinc supplementation is a mainstay of my practice. Why? Because zinc is a first-line wound healer — and the more you have on deck before surgery, the better.
You need zinc for protein synthesis — and that makes it a critical component of tissue repair. In fact, local concentrations of zinc jump as much as 50% higher around healing muscle and skin wounds. And even the slightest deficiency can slam the brakes on this reconstruction process.5
5. You get sick a lot. Or, conversely, you never get sick — and you just want to keep it that way. You might remember that zinc is a staple of my flu-prevention protocol. That’s because this is easily one of zinc’s best known benefits. (Which should come as no surprise, given its vital role in modulating the immune response.)
But here’s some of the latest research, in case you need more convincing: A brand-new meta-analysis showed that high-dose zinc lozenges can cut the duration of common cold-related nasal discharge by 33%. And nasal congestion by 37%. And scratchy throat, sore throat, hoarseness, and cough by 33%, 18%, 43%, and 46%, respectively.6
Do I really need to say more? Probably not.
The bottom line: For adults of any age, the recommended daily intake of zinc is 8 mg for women and 11 mg for men. This RDI will keep you alive — but it won’t keep you healthy. That’s why I generally recommend that my patients take 15 to 30 mg every single day. (In addition to eating plenty of zinc-rich foods — oysters are the motherlode, but beef, spinach, pumpkin seeds, and cashews are decent sources, too.)
You can go higher if necessary — but if you take more than 30 mg, don’t forget to supplement with copper, too. (Zinc can interfere with the absorption of copper — which is a trace mineral, but vital all the same — and vice versa.) My rule of thumb: For every 30 mg of supplemental zinc, include 1 mg of copper.
This should keep your mineral load in balance... and the rest of your body way better off for it.
Stay tuned and stay well,
Geo Espinosa, N.D., L.Ac, C.N.S., is a renowned naturopathic doctor recognized as an authority in integrative management of male and urological conditions. Dr. Geo is the founder and director of the Integrative Urology Center at New York University Langone Medical Center (NYULMC), a center of excellence in research and integrative treatments for urological conditions.
1. Christudoss P, et al. Indian J Urol. 2011 Jan-Mar; 27(1): 14–18.
2. Prasad AS, et al. Nutrition. 1996 May;12(5):344-8.
3. Wong CP, et al. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2015 May;59(5):991-9.
4. Joshaghani H, et al. J Trace Elem Med Biol. 2012 Oct;26(4):234-7.
5. Senepati A, et al. Br J Surg. 1985 Jul;72(7):583-4.
6. Hemilä H, et al. BMC Fam Pract. 2015 Feb 25;16:24.