Zinc for Testosterone—How Much We Need, How to Get It

Posted by Medical Board on May 28, 2021 in Uncategorized Last updated on May 28, 2021

Both men and women produce testosterone in the body.  In males however, testosterone is the primary hormone that contributes to both sexual and non-sexual well-being.[4]  Some men don’t have enough of the male androgen and hypoandrogenism occurs.  The condition is common especially as men age.  In fact, roughly 40% of men over age 45 and 50% of men in their 80’s suffer with low levels of testosterone enough to cause noticeable symptoms that affect everyday life.  Testosterone levels in men decrease by about 1-2% per year after age 30.[1]

Symptoms of low testosterone in men include:

  • Lower libido
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Decrease in muscle mass
  • Decrease in strength
  • Obesity
  • Decrease in bone mineral density
  • Hot flashes
  • Mild anemia
  • Osteoporosis[4]
  • Inattention/difficulty concentrating
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Low self-esteem
  • Tender breast tissue  
  • Reduction in sustained erections
  • Reduction in spontaneous erections.[3]

Testosterone is for males the primary sex hormone.  It facilitates sperm production as well as the development of masculine secondary characteristics including greater muscle mass, deepening voice, broadness of the shoulders and hair growth on the face and chest.  As males age however, testosterone production diminishes causing erectile dysfunction in some men

Testosterone Levels in Adult Males

Normal levels for morning testosterone range from 300 to 1,000 ng/dl.  Hypogonadism is defined as testosterone levels below 300 ng/dl according to the Endocrine Society.[1]

Get Tested for Testosterone Deficiency

Testosterone levels should be tested in the morning when androgen hormone levels are at their highest.  Between the hours of 7am and 10 am testosterone is at its peak.[3]

Common forms of hormone testing include saliva and blood spot tests.  Either of these can be ordered through a physician or completed with an at- home test kit.

Zinc and Testosterone, The Connection

The mineral zinc is a trace element necessary for many functions within the body that cannot be stored.  Because of this, zinc must be obtained through diet or nutrition supplements daily in order to maintain adequate levels.  Zinc enables the metabolization of nutrients by cells, cell division, the formation of DNA, neurotransmitter synthesis, and the production of testosterone in men. 

Low levels of zinc can cause deficiencies in both sexes contributing to a range of conditions including short stature, difficulty tasting food, and the dysfunction of testes and ovaries.  Zinc supplementation has been successfully used by physicians to help prevent acute childhood diarrhea, slow healing of wounds, and Wilson’s disease, a potentially life threatening inherited condition associated with the inability to properly eliminate copper from the body.[7]   

The body requires zinc for a number of other functions including immune support, healthy thyroid function, and blood clotting as well.

Zinc deficiency is also associated with disorders affecting absorption of nutrients.  Low levels of zinc can be linked to conditions including sickle cell disease, HIV, major depression, and type II diabetes.   

Additional symptoms of zinc deficiency include:

  • Hair loss
  • Eye sores
  • Skin sores
  • Reduced appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Lower level of alertness[6]

Other Causes of Zinc Deficiency in Adults

A deficiency in the trace element zinc may be caused by certain conditions that could inhibit or interfere with zinc absorption in the body including:

  • Gastrointestinal disease
  • Eating disorders
  • A vegetarian diet or diet low in protein
  • Heavy alcohol consumption
  • Medications including ACE inhibitors, diuretics, and drugs to help reduce stomach acid[7]

The prevalence of zinc deficiency is common throughout the world including within the United States.  The essential trace element zinc is only necessary in very small amounts for normal physical function.  The body does not store zinc however, so zinc must be obtained regularly through diet or supplementation.  While the typical U.S. male consumes about 13 mg daily as part of a healthy diet, many men fall short of recommended levels due to poor eating, excess alcohol consumption, or lack of protein.[7]

While low levels of zinc are associated with myriad medical conditions this essential nutrient has a powerful connection with hormonal health, especially in males.[7]

Recent research concludes that low levels of zinc in men directly correlates with reduced testosterone levels or hypogonadism (little or no production of sex hormones by testes) or impotence.  According to current studies, supplementation with zinc has been proven to raise serum testosterone levels in deficient adult men.[5]

How does zinc work to improve testosterone levels?

One way zinc works to increase levels of testosterone in men is by inhibiting the aromatase enzyme that converts testosterone to estrogen.  While estrogen is important for controlling cholesterol, maintaining bone, skin, and heart health as well as other tissues, too much estrogen can cause infertility, erectile dysfunction and depression in men.

Supplementing with Zinc

Supplementing with zinc may work to boost the body’s natural levels of testosterone.  This can improve testosterone levels if a person is truly deficient in zinc.  In mammalian studies zinc therapy was found to improve sexual competence including ejaculatory latency in some animals including rats.[2]

How much zinc does a man need?

The recommended daily amount of zinc should include 11 milligrams per day for adult males.  A diet high in protein should contain a significant amount of zinc.

Foods that naturally contain zinc include:

  • Red meat
  • Poultry
  • Fish[7]
  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Lamb
  • Chicken
  • Nuts
  • Whole grains
  • Legumes
  • Yeast

*Bioavailability of zinc is much lower in some plant-based foods and grains    due to chemicals known as Phytates.  These are present in many fibrous substances and bind zinc, inhibiting its ability to be absorbed into the body.  While these foods may still be good sources of zinc, they are not as bioavailable as zinc from animal proteins.[6]

Vegetarians may require 50% more of the Recommended Dietary Allowance of zinc than those who consume animal products.  Specific steps can be taken to increase the bioavailability of zinc including soaking beans, grains, and seeds in water until they sprout.  Leavened grains, as in bread helps breakdown phytates as well.[6]

Zinc mineral nutrition infographic with healthcare and food icons: diet, healthy food and wellbeing concept

Zinc supplements are packaged as either a multivitamin or alone in the form of zinc gluconate, zinc sulfate, zinc acetate, or zinc orotate.  This form of zinc is considered highly bioavailable in the body.  Supplements are available as tablets, gummies, liquids, and capsules.  Zinc may also be combined with other minerals including calcium or magnesium. 

The upper limit of zinc consumption is 40mg/day maximum.

Supplementation with 25-50 micrograms daily may help boost low testosterone levels in men.[8] 

Zinc Supplementation Side Effects

Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and kidney and stomach issues can result from zinc supplementation if taken in high doses over long periods of time.  Fever, fatigue, and coughing may result as well.  In a few extreme cases, prostate cancer may be linked to high zinc consumption over extended periods as well.[7]

Precautions and Drug Interactions with Zinc

Zinc may decrease the efficacy of some medications including antibiotics if taken together by interfering with the body’s ability to absorb the drug.  Zinc may also interfere with absorbency of some HIV/AIDS medications and drugs used to treat cancer.  Other vitamins and minerals may not be effectively absorbed as well.

Getting Tested for Zinc Deficiency

The body only actively contains about 2 or 3 grams of zinc at any one time.  Because zinc gets distributed throughout organs, blood, and bones it can be challenging to accurately diagnose a true zinc deficiency.

Blood spot testing for essential elements can help identify lower than normal levels of zinc in the body.

Recommended Dietary Allowance for Zinc Deficiency

For those with mild zinc deficiency it is recommended to take 2-3 times the RDA for a period of up to 6 months.  For individuals with moderate to severe zinc deficiency a dose of 4 to 5 times the RDA of zinc for a period of 6 months is recommended.  

After supplementing with zinc, follow up testing should be done to determine if zinc levels fall within the normal range.  Do not supplement the diet with zinc for a period beyond 6 months without consulting a healthcare practitioner.

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