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Zinc: How Essential Is It to Your Fertility?

Zinc: How Essential Is It to Your Fertility?

Photo by Morberg on flickr

Maintaining a healthy body that is ready to conceive and carry a child requires getting just the right mix of nutrients. Unfortunately, far too many of us fail to provide our body with the fuel it needs to build strong cells and organs that are prepared for the job at hand.

The Importance of Zinc

A Zinc deficiency alone will not make you infertile, but it is a key factor in making many parts of the reproductive system work properly. Zinc is just one component, but it works with more than 300 different enzymes in the body to keep things working well. Without it, your cells cannot divide properly; your estrogen and progesterone levels can get out of balance and your reproductive system may not be fully functioning.

How Zinc Affects a Woman’s Fertility

In women, zinc plays a vital role in many key reproductive health areas including:

  • Egg production: a woman’s body needs a certain amount of zinc to produce mature eggs that are ripe for fertilization
  • Maintaining proper follicular fluid levels: without enough fluid in the follicles, an egg cannot travel the course through the fallopian tubes and into the uterus for implantation.
  • Hormone regulation: zinc is just one of the minerals that the body uses to keep hormone levels (like estrogen, progesterone and testosterone) levels stable throughout the entire menstrual cycle.

Low levels of zinc have been directly linked to miscarriage in the early stages of a pregnancy, according to The Centers for Disease Control’s Assisted Reproductive Technology Report, which tracks the results of numerous fertility research reports being administered throughout the nation.

Here is another reason why women should get enough zinc: it can help to reduce the size of fibroids. Since fibroids are a cause of infertility themselves, doing what you can to reduce their size can help to make getting pregnant easier for some women. Taking just 30 mg of zinc a day may help to decrease the size of inflamed fibroids, thus increasing the chance for a pregnancy to occur.

How Zinc Affects Male Fertility

As important as zinc levels are to a woman’s fertility, it may even more vital to a man’s ability to get his partner pregnant. Considered one of the most important trace minerals to date for male fertility, increasing zinc levels in infertile men has been shown to boost sperm levels; improve the form, function and quality of male sperm and decrease male infertility.

When low levels of zinc are found in the male reproductive tract, a variety of disorders may present themselves.

  • Immature sperm: zinc is necessary in the creation of the outer membrane and tail of a sperm. Without it, the sperm cannot mature to a stage that gives them the mobility and strength to make the long journey through the vagina, cervix and into the uterus for fertilization to take place.
  • Decreased motility: Low zinc in semen has been linked to poor sperm motility by researchers at the Division of Urology, The University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, Rochester, New York (Urology).
  • Chromosomal changes: low levels of zinc may also be the for reason chromosomal defects in the sperm, which could cause a miscarriage even if fertilization and implantation do take place.

Zinc Missing from Today’s Diet
Zinc is one of those minerals that are absolutely essential to fertility in both men and women; yet research shows that few people these days get the right amount. One of the reasons why zinc is in such short supply these days in the average diet is poor soil health, which fails to provide this important mineral. Heating and cooking can also reduce the zinc in foods by 50%. So it is important to eat foods high in zinc in their raw form. The richest source of Zinc is Oysters, but some easy to find and eat sources are raw pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds (look for tahini -sesame seed butter, as well).

Zinc Depletion Linked to Modern Lifestyle
It isn’t just a lack of zinc-filled foods that is sapping our bodies of this all-important mineral. Our modern lifestyle is too. Exposure to stress, pollution, alcohol, and even cigarette smoke can also deplete our bodies of important zinc supplies.

Food Sources of Zinc
Making sure to eat enough foods high in zinc on a weekly basis is important. Make sure to try to eat as many zinc sources as you can raw since cooking has been shown to reduce zinc content by at least 50%. Here are the foods highest in zinc, listed in order of concentration:

  • Beef including calf liver
  • Oysters and shrimp
  • Lamb
  • Venison
  • Sesame and pumkin seeds
  • Yogurt
  • Turkey
  • Green peas and many beans

Note: According to the Office of Dietary Supplements at the National Institutes of Health, “Vegetarians sometimes require as much as 50% more of the RDA for zinc than non-vegetarians. In addition, they might benefit from using certain food preparation techniques that reduce the binding of zinc by phytates and increase its bioavailability.”

Supplementation to the Rescue
If you have tried to eat enough foods high in zinc, but still aren’t sure that you are getting enough, try taking a zinc supplement (our whole food prenatal multi-vitamin has the perfect amount of zinc in it). Take about 15 mg per day under normal circumstances. If your doctor suspects a serious zinc depletion or you also suffer with fibroids, you may need to take as much as 30 mg to provide your body with the amount it needs. Just be sure to also take a multi-vitamin containing copper (especially if using a higher zinc dosage), since zinc can cause a copper deficiency in some people.

Adding more zinc to your system may not guarantee a pregnancy, but it sure can help to ensure that you have all of the minerals your body needs to produce strong eggs and sperm and is prepared as best as it can be for the job of building a baby ahead.

Dr. Christine Traxler M.D., OB/GYN
Dr. Christine Traxler M.D., OB/GYN

Dr. Traxler is a University-trained obstetrician/gynecologist, working with patients in Minnesota for over 20 years. She is a professional medical writer; having authored multiple books on pregnancy and childbirth; textbooks and coursework for medical students and other healthcare providers; and has written over 1000 articles on medical, health, and wellness topics.  Dr. Traxler attended the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences and University of Minnesota Medical School,  earning a degree in biochemistry with summa cum laude honors in 1981,  and receiving her Medical Doctorate degree (MD) in 1986.

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  1. Avatar

    Thank you for a great article! I had a missed abortion a year ago, and afterwords my alternative doctor found that I had severe zinc deficiency (using the Oligoscan method). I started taking zinc supplements, and about 8 months later the levels were better, but still low. I’ve been taking 60 mg zinc (with copper) a day (doctor’s order). Now I’m trying to get pregnant again, but I’m worried that my (probably still low) zinc levels could cause a new miscarriage. Still taking 60 mg zinc + copper. Do you have any tips og thoughts about this? Thank you!

    • Dear Bridget,

      It may be best to talk to your doctor about both your current zinc levels and share your concerns. Consider taking your zinc supplement, away from food, at night just before bed may be best say many sources to prevent it from having to compete for absorption with other minerals. Consider also eating organic foods that naturally contain zinc daily.

      If you smoke, drink alcohol or caffeine, consider giving these up as well. Here too are 5 Steps To Decreasing the Chance of Recurrent Miscarriages that you may find helpful.

      I am sorry you are worried and for what you have been through!

  2. Update 2014 – We are back! We have been away for a while and we sure have missed all of your wonderful questions and thoughts on our articles. Moving forward, one of our staff herbalists will be here to respond to comments! We look forward to connecting with our readers once again!

  3. Avatar

    it is very interesting to know about the zinc,its very useful topic to all.