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Zinc is extremely important to human fertility, particularly male fertility. Not only is zinc needed to modulate serum testosterone levels in men, but healthy sperm also cannot be produced without it. Zinc is important to female fertility too but to a lesser degree. Or so the scientific community believes, at present.
Zinc and Male Fertility
Not only does semen contain a lot of zinc, but scientists have confirmed its necessity for spermatogenesis. Spermatogenesis is the origin and development of sperm cells within the testes. Obviously, if you cannot produce sperm without zinc, a man who is zinc deficient will have fertility issues.
“Dietary zinc restriction and deficiency in normal young men is associated with a significant decrease in serum testosterone concentrations, which can negatively impact fertility and lower libido.”1
Scientists have studied the effect of zinc on male fertility for a long time. A study published in Archives of Andrology: Journal of Reproductive Systems (now known as Systems Biology in Reproductive Medicine), in 1981, established zinc’s ability to help male fertility. Here’s a quote:
“The effects of zinc therapy on plasma testosterone (T), dihydrotestosterone (DHT), and sperm count were studied in 37 patients with idiopathic infertility of more than five years duration. In the first group (T < 4.8 ng/ml; 22 patients), T and DHT rose significantly after oral administration of zinc, as did the sperm count. Nine wives became pregnant, six within 3 months and three within 2 months of a second trial. In the second group (T > 4.8 ng/ml; 15 patients), T and sperm count were unaffected by zinc, while DHT increased significantly. There was no conception observed. The rationale of this treatment and the significance of the results are discussed.”2
So, even back in the early eighties, there was scientific evidence of zinc’s ability to help men with idiopathic (unexplained) infertility. The study’s results would indicate that those who were able to impregnate their wives within a few months of treatment were suffering infertility as a result of a zinc deficiency. Those who did not have starting testosterone levels lower than 4.8 ng/ml saw no increase in testosterone or sperm count. And though their DHT levels did increase, they were unable to impregnate their wives over the course of the study. This would indicate that their infertility was not caused by zinc deficiency.
Zinc and Female Fertility
At this point in time, the medical community will not acknowledge that a zinc deficiency can cause infertility in women. However, they do acknowledge the importance of zinc to female fertility, which (in my opinion) is contradictory.
“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 can not divide properly; your estrogen and progesterone levels can get out of balance and your reproductive system may not be fully functioning.”3
Not sure how an absence of the substance that makes “many parts of the reproductive system work properly” could not be a cause of infertility, but they’re the scientists. They must know what they’re talking about. Right?
It’s also worth mentioning that women need zinc during the growth process of ova (the eggs). Ova that do not receive adequate amounts of zinc will not mature properly and ovulation will suffer. A 2015 study on human egg activation and development demonstrated zinc’s importance to the development of embryos.
“Egg activation refers to events required for transition of a gamete into an embryo, including establishment of the polyspermy block, completion of meiosis, entry into mitosis, selective recruitment and degradation of maternal mRNA, and pronuclear development. … These egg activation methods, as expected, induced rises in intracellular calcium levels and also triggered the coordinated release of zinc into the extracellular space in a prominent “zinc spark.” The ability of the gamete to mount a zinc spark response was meiotic-stage dependent. Moreover, chelation of intracellular zinc alone was sufficient to induce cell cycle resumption and transition of a meiotic cell into a mitotic one. Together, these results demonstrate critical functions for zinc dynamics and establish the zinc spark as an extracellular marker of early human development.”4
So, without sufficient zinc and the “zinc spark,” a fertilized egg cannot transition into an embryo. If a fertilized egg does not become an embryo, it cannot become a fetus, no fetus no baby. This is how Human life begins and, apparently, zinc is the most important nutrient for that beginning.
How Much Zinc Do We Need?
The RDA for zinc covers the basic needs of the human body, adequate intake levels, particularly for infants and children. And it is possible to get too much zinc when you supplement. Whenever possible, try to get your nutritional needs met by the foods you eat. But if you must supplement, remember that zinc and copper have a balancing act that must be maintained. The more zinc you take, the more copper you will need, and vice versa.
“Consuming zinc without copper decreases copper in the body. Consuming copper without zinc decreases zinc in the body. Zinc and copper are each others counterbalance. Research has suggested that a zinc to copper ratio of 10:1 is good for health, but anywhere in the 8:1 to 12:1 range is considered healthy.”5
It should also be noted that, in studies, zinc supplementation of 100 to 200 mg daily has been shown to increase testosterone levels, sperm count and sperm motility. However, 200 mg is considered the tolerable upper intake limit for zinc, according to the National Institutes of Health. I have included the zinc RDA (recommended daily allowance) chart created by the National Institutes of Health in the post ‘How Zinc Can Reverse and Prevent Hair Loss’, as well as the symptoms of zinc toxicity. There’s also a long list of zinc-rich foods, suitable for vegans, vegetarians, pescatarian and the ordinary omnivore.
Medical Community Denial
I find it odd that scientists are willing to credit high cholesterol levels, thyroid abnormalities, second-hand smoke and even artificial nighttime lighting with causing infertility in humans, but still refuse to recognize the role of essential nutrients. … Well, at least for women experiencing infertility.
I’m well aware of the monetary factors that make those in the scientific / medical communities shun treatments that are not highly profitable. For example, IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) costs, on average, $8000 to $15,000. Meanwhile, a one-year supply of zinc – 50mg per tablet – will only cost you $8 to $16 depending on the brand. So, zinc supplementation is not a money making therapy to be certain. By the same token, sperm from a sperm bank is pretty cheap, while IVF and surrogacy are far from it. Women’s fertility is a huge money making industry, so it’s understandable that many in that industry would prefer offering a treatment that will make them thousands of dollars instead of just a few.
Despite knowing all of this, I believe the medical community’s official stance will change in the not-too-distant future. It will have to. Infertility problems are on the rise in the West. With the advent of highly-processed, low-nutrient foods there has been a dramatic rise in infertility. And since zinc would only be useful for reversing infertility problems that result from inadequate intake of the nutrient, those whose issues are a result of diabetes, chlamydia and other factors would require more extreme (and expensive) measures to procreate. Besides, everyone researches everything online these days. A fertility doctor pretending not to know of fertility research that anyone can discover on the world wide web is going to look less than competent.
If you have any questions or comments about zinc and/or infertility, and especially if you have successfully treated your own infertility with zinc, share it below or email me.
1 Josh, Axe, MD. “10 Powerful Zinc Benefits, Including Fighting Cancer”. Dr. Axe, n.d. Web. September 2016
2 A. Netter, K. Nahoul and R. Hartoma. “Effect of Zinc Administration on Plasma Testosterone, Dihydrotestosterone, and Sperm Count”. Archives of Andrology, Volume 7, 1981, Issue 1. (Published online July 9, 2009). Web. October 2016
3 Rodriguez, Hethir, CH, CMT. “Zinc: How Essential Is It to Your Fertility?” Natural Fertility Info, n.d. Web. October 2016
4 FE Duncan, EL Que, N Zhang, et al. “The Zinc Spark is an Inorganic Signature of Human Egg Activation”. Scientific Report, April 26, 2016. <www.nature.com> Web. October 2016
5 Lewis, Andrea. “How Zinc Can Reverse and Prevent Hair Loss”. Holistic Health & Living, September 25, 2016. Web
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Spermatogenesis”. Encyclopaedia Britannica, n.d. Web. October 2016
“Infertility – Symptoms and Causes”. Mayo Clinic, August 2, 2016. Web. October 2016
Rona, Zoltan, MD, Msc. “6 Ways to Boost Male Fertility Naturally”. Alive: Your complete source for natural health and wellness, January 1, 2005. Web. October 2016