When you have PCOS and experience physical symptoms like acne or hirsutism, you probably have hit up google to see if there’s anything to help. And you’ve likely come across zinc for PCOS!
When you think of zinc, Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. You might think of it as a nutrient that helps the immune system if you’re under the weather, or something that could help prevent you from getting sick in the first place. Also, in recent years, you may have heard about people taking zinc to help restore taste after an infection. While zinc is crucial for our immune systems and our sense of taste and smell, it also plays an important role in PCOS management!
Let’s chat about it.
What is zinc, where can I find it, and what does it do?
Zinc is a mineral that we need from food, because our bodies don’t make it on their own. This is what’s called an essential mineral. Some of the best food sources of zinc are oysters, beef, crab, and the dark meat of turkey and chicken. It’s also found in plant based foods such as fortified cereal, soybeans, nuts, and seeds, but the zinc from these foods are not absorbed as well as the zinc from animal foods.
Zinc has many roles in our bodies – beyond immune health and taste/smell! These roles include:
- Cell growth and division
- Wound healing
- Forming collagen
- Brain health
- Mental wellness
- Sperm development
- May help with menstrual pain
- Fetal development
- Needed for ovulation
- Lowers inflammation and acts as an antioxidant (which helps fight chronic diseases)
- Improves insulin sensitivity/helps our cells use glucose (or carbohydrates) for energy
- Helps maintain testosterone levels, and is involved with metabolizing other androgens
- May help lower cholesterol and triglycerides
You may really relate to the last five points on this list if you have PCOS. With PCOS, irregular or absent ovulation, inflammation, insulin resistance, elevated androgens, and high cholesterol/triglycerides are very common. So while Zinc is important for everyone, it is especially important to get enough if you have PCOS.
Zinc for PCOS
We see in research that zinc levels in the blood tend to be lower in those with PCOS, which is why it’s a nutrient we want to pay more attention to for PCOS treatment and management.
Fortunately, there are some studies on zinc and PCOS management!
Here’s a preview of what the research says about Zinc and PCOS:
- Insulin Resistance: Taking zinc as a supplement lowered insulin levels
- Lipids: Zinc supplementation also helped lower triglycerides, total cholesterol, and LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol levels
- Androgens: Zinc may lower both testosterone and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEAS) levels
- Antioxidant & Inflammation: Along with Magnesium supplementation, zinc supplements acted as an antioxidant and lowered inflammation
Now that we know about the many roles of zinc in general and specifically for PCOS, let’s chat about zinc deficiency. A zinc deficiency can occur when you’re not getting enough from food, or when it’s not being absorbed properly. Since zinc is better absorbed from animal foods, vegans and vegetarians may have a higher risk of zinc deficiency. Those with PCOS may also have a higher risk since blood levels tend to be lower than those who do not have PCOS.
Having low levels of zinc can lead to things like poor wound healing, changes in taste and smell, decreased appetite, pregnancy complications, and menstrual cycle abnormalities*. Your doctor can also check your zinc level through a blood test. If you end up having a deficiency, your doctor and/or a Registered Dietitian can come up with a plan to correct the deficiency.
*Please note that while these are common signs or symptoms of a zinc deficiency, these may overlap with other conditions as well. Always see your healthcare provider before assuming that the issue is zinc related – especially before taking any supplements.
Should I supplement with zinc for PCOS?
If you’ve followed me for a while, you probably know what I’m going to say – it depends on the person!
To elaborate, you could benefit from a supplement if you’re not getting enough from the foods in your diet . Supplements for PCOS are very individualized, and I can help navigate if you should take a supplement or not in my group coaching program. All of my group coaching participants get a supplement “cheat sheet” about zinc (and other relevant supplements) with dosage information. I also talk about the best supplement brands.
If you feel lost in all of the information (and plenty of misinformation) about supplements in general, take a look at my blog post about Best Supplements for PCOS.
Is it possible to get too much Zinc?
The short answer is yes – this is called zinc toxicity.
Even though studies have shown positive results in taking zinc supplements for PCOS, it does not mean that everyone with PCOS should take a zinc supplement. Always speak with a healthcare provider before starting a zinc supplement – or any supplement!
It is possible to get too much zinc, which can result in….
- Poor copper (which is another mineral) absorption, leading to a copper deficiency
- Nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain
- Lower absorption of certain medications
If you think you aren’t getting enough zinc but can’t see a healthcare provider right away, you could start by increasing your intake through foods first. You probably won’t get too much zinc from food alone – but you might get too much from taking supplements.
Zinc is essential for a number of functions within our bodies. Plus, there are some specific benefits for those with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). Studies have shown some positive results with zinc for PCOS and inflammation, insulin resistance, elevated androgens, and high cholesterol and triglycerides. While supplements can be helpful, I always recommend checking with your healthcare provider before you take any. You can also focus on your zinc intake through foods like oysters, beef, poultry, nuts, and seeds.
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