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Last updated: Nov 22, 2022
5 min read

Zinc and testosterone: what’s the connection?

chimene richalinnea zielinski

Medically Reviewed by Chimene Richa, MD

Written by Linnea Zielinski

Disclaimer

If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

If you follow health and wellness culture, you may have heard of zinc or zinc supplements. Zinc is an essential nutrient and the second most abundant trace mineral in the human body. 

Proper zinc intake helps keep your body functioning properly. It plays an important role in wound healing and immune function, cell division, and the formation of DNA and proteins. It’s also vital for growth and development, influences taste and smell, and can potentially slow age-related macular degeneration. 

What does this have to do with testosterone? Zinc deficiency may play a role in hypogonadism (testosterone deficiency). And since our bodies don’t make or store this mineral, we have to get enough zinc every day through our diets or supplements. 

Continue reading to learn more about the connection between zinc and testosterone.

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Zinc and testosterone

You might have heard that oysters are an aphrodisiac (whether or not this is true is up for debate). Nonetheless, oysters gained their reputation because they’re one of the best food sources of zinc. Zinc deficiency may be associated with hypogonadism, or testosterone deficiency, a dysfunction where the testes don’t produce enough testosterone. 

Low testosterone (also called low T) may result in side effects such as weight gain, decreased strength and muscle mass, low sex drive, and erectile dysfunction

One study to learn more about the connection between zinc and testosterone restricted dietary zinc intake in young men for 20 weeks. In that time, their testosterone levels fell from an average of 39.9 nmol/L (nanomoles per liter) to 10.6 nmol/L. The same study also looked at elderly men with minor zinc deficiencies. The men were given zinc supplements for six months and, after 24 weeks, their serum testosterone levels had improved. Their average T level went from 8.3 nmol/L to 16.0 nmol/L (within the normal range for healthy adults) (Prasad, 1996). 

The study was small and more research would need to confirm just how much testosterone levels are impacted by zinc levels. However, the results suggest a connection between the two.

Low zinc levels may also interfere with the production of sperm, may cause sperm abnormalities, and may negatively impact serum testosterone levels (Fallah, 2018). 

Zinc and other hormones

Zinc doesn’t just impact testosterone. The mineral is involved with multiple processes in your body essential to the production and regulation of several hormones. For example, zinc impacts thyroid function as an important part of thyroid hormone synthesis and activity. Zinc deficiency may prevent the body from secreting thyroid hormones as it should (Baltaci, 2019). 

To bring it back to testosterone, factors that negatively impact thyroid hormones may also lead to low testosterone levels. An example of this is intense exercise. In one small study, exercise to the point of exhaustion led to a decrease in both thyroid hormones and testosterone concentrations in a group of wrestlers. However, four weeks of treatment with zinc sulfate supplementation prevented this effect (Kilic, 2006). 

Another similar study found that oral zinc treatment prevented a drop in both thyroid hormone and testosterone levels caused by bicycle exercise to the point of exhaustion (Kilic, 2007).

Additional benefits of zinc

Another superpower of zinc is that it fights inflammation. Inflammation is tied to oxidative stress, a state in which there’s an imbalance between free radicals that can cause cellular damage. Oxidative stress is linked to many chronic diseases, including diabetes and cancer. Zinc can lower oxidative stress by acting as an antioxidant in the body to restore balance (Marreiro, 2017).

Proper zinc levels also support the immune system by helping with T-lymphocyte development, which boosts infection-fighting T-cells (Honscheid, 2009). Sufficient zinc intake is critical to wound healing, so much so that the trace element has been used with vitamin C to speed healing of pressure ulcers (Bhattacharya, 2015). 

How to get enough zinc

For most people, food sources should be enough to hit the recommended dietary allowance (RDA). But since oysters and beef are some of the most potent sources of dietary zinc intake, vegans and vegetarians may struggle to get enough zinc without supplementing. Other quality sources include nuts and seeds, dairy, and dark chocolate. Legumes and whole grains also contain zinc but may need to be soaked to reduce levels of phytate, a compound that blocks zinc absorption. Some foods, like certain breakfast cereals, are also fortified with the essential mineral (ODS, 2022).

People with gastrointestinal issues such as Crohn’s or celiac disease, as well as those with liver disease, may struggle to absorb zinc from their diets and may need to take a supplement. These people should work closely with a healthcare professional to monitor their zinc concentrations. Too much zinc (zinc overdose) can be dangerous and may cause problems with magnesium and copper levels (ODS, 2022). 

As with all supplements, consult your healthcare provider before you begin taking a zinc supplement.

References

  1. Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2 Research Group. (2013). Lutein + zeaxanthin and omega-3 fatty acids for age-related macular degeneration. JAMA, 309(19), 2005. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.4997. Retrieved from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/1684847 
  2. Baltaci, A. K., Mogulkoc, R., & Baltaci, S. B. (2019). Review: The role of zinc in the endocrine system. Pakistan Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, 32(1), 231–239. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30772815/
  3. Bhattacharya, S. & Mishra, R. K. (2015). Pressure ulcers: Current understanding and newer modalities of treatment. Indian Journal of Plastic Surgery, 48(01), 004–016. doi:10.4103/0970-0358.155260. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25991879/ 
  4. Chandra, A., Copen, C. E., & Stephen, E. H. (2019). CDC – NCHS – National Center for Health Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhsr/nhsr067.pdf 
  5. Fallah, A., Mohammad-Hasani, A., & Hosseinzadeh Colagar, A. (2018). Zinc is an essential element for male fertility: a review of zn roles in men’s health, germination, sperm quality, and fertilization. Journal of Reproduction & Infertility, 19(2), 69–81. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6010824/ 
  6. Honscheid, A., Rink, L., & Haase, H. (2009). T-Lymphocytes: a target for stimulatory and inhibitory effects of zinc ions. Endocrine, Metabolic & Immune Disorders – Drug Targets, 9(2), 132–144. doi:10.2174/187153009788452390. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19519463/ 
  7. Kilic, M., Baltaci, A. K., Gunay, M., et al. (2006). The effect of exhaustion exercise on thyroid hormones and testosterone levels of elite athletes receiving oral zinc. Neuro Endocrinology Letters, 27(1-2), 247–252. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16648789/ 
  8. Kilic, M. (2007). Effect of fatiguing bicycle exercise on thyroid hormone and testosterone levels in sedentary males supplemented with oral zinc. Neuro Endocrinology Letters, 28(5), 681–685. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17984944/ 
  9. Marreiro, D., Cruz, K., Morais, J., et al. (2017). Zinc and oxidative stress: current mechanisms. Antioxidants, 6(2), 24. doi:10.3390/antiox6020024. Retrieved from https://www.mdpi.com/2076-3921/6/2/24 
  10. Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS). Retrieved on Nov. 16, 2022 from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/
  11. Prasad, A. (1996). Zinc status and serum testosterone levels of healthy adults. Nutrition, 12(5), vi. doi:10.1016/s0899-9007(96)80058-x. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8875519/

Dr. Chimene Richa is a board-certified Ophthalmologist and Senior Medical Writer/Reviewer at Ro.