Being diagnosed with PCOS can be a confusing time with all of the recommendations around what you should eat, take and do. Zinc may not be a mineral you’ve thought much about but it may be associated with PCOS symptom management. Let’s take a look at zinc and how it may be beneficial for those with PCOS.
What is zinc?
Zinc is a trace mineral, meaning that it is an essential nutrient that the body requires in order to function properly, however much smaller amounts are needed (1).
Even though it is a trace mineral, it is vital for almost 100 enzymes in the body to carry out chemical reactions (2). It is involved in making new cells and enzymes, wound healing as well as processing the macronutrients found in food.
Zinc is essential for the reproductive system because the cells in the reproductive system change form and multiply extensively. These cell processes are zinc-dependent which means the processes rely on zinc to be able to take place. When zinc is at optimal levels, it is though to contribute to endocrine (hormone) balance, redox balance, inflammatory processes, glucose metabolism and lipid metabolism, all of which have effects on the reproductive system.
How much zinc do you need in a day?
In the UK, the recommended amount per day is between 7mg and 9.5mg for adults. Most individuals get all the zinc they need by consuming a varied diet.
A blood test can test zinc levels in the blood.
Can you get zinc from food?
Absolutely, zinc is present in a wide variety of foods. Meat, poultry and seafood are all rich in zinc. If you are vegetarian, vegan or plant-based, don’t worry. Legumes and whole grains are also good sources of zinc but, they contain phytates (compounds that lower the absorption of iron, zinc, magnesium and calcium. Therefore, people who don’t consume meat or seafood may need to consume more zinc. Find out more about foods for PCOS here.
What are the signs of zinc deficiency?
A zinc deficiency may occur because of diet, problems with the gut, alcoholism, chronic illnesses or taking too much iron. Speak to your doctor if you notice any of the following symptoms:
- Loss of appetite
- Sudden weight loss
- Feeling fatigued
- Getting ill more often
- Hair loss
- Rashes on the skin
- Problems with vision, taste or smell
Does zinc help PCOS?
Whilst it isn’t one of the main supplements recommended for those with PCOS, there is evidence to suggest that people with PCOS may have lower circulating zinc levels compared to people without PCOS (3). This may suggest that people with PCOS need to be conscious of their zinc consumption.
Zinc and insulin resistance
Zinc is linked to insulin too. This mineral is essential for insulin synthesis, release, action and storage, and considering that a high percentage of people with PCOS have insulin resistance (4), zinc may play a key role.
Insulin resistance is found to be common in PCOS sufferers, as zinc is important for insulin synthesis, it may contribute to the management of PCOS. Additionally, studies have found that supplementing with zinc can significantly decrease insulin resistance and insulin concentration.
Zinc and cholesterol
Individuals with PCOS are also at an elevated risk of having dyslipidemia (5). Dyslipidemia is the imbalance of lipids like cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C), high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and triglycerides. A small study has found that supplementing with zinc over the course of 8 weeks can significantly decrease triglyceride, total cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol and VLDL-cholesterol concentrations (6). Although, more research is needed to understand the link between zinc and cholesterol levels.
Can zinc help with hirsutism?
Although there were some studies touting that zinc may help with hirsutism for PCOS, the evidence was called into question (7). More research is required to understand the link between zinc supplementation and hirsutism.
Should I take zinc supplements for PCOS?
A review of 36 randomised, controlled studies found that in people with PCOS, zinc supplementation may improve insulin resistance and lipid balance (8). Whilst there is some promising evidence for zinc having an impact on PCOS and the associated symptoms, further evidence is required to be able to definitely recommend it to people with PCOS.
If you have found that you have a zinc deficiency, making dietary changes should be your first port of call. Then, choosing a zinc supplement that also contains copper may be advisable.
Considerations for zinc supplementation
If you choose to supplement with zinc, ensure you don’t take more than 25mg of zinc per day unless advised to by a doctor (9). Taking too much zinc reduces the amount of copper the body can absorb. This can result in anaemia and weak bones. If you have a copper deficiency, do not take zinc supplements unless advised by your doctor.
Long-term supplementation of zinc without measuring zinc, iron and copper levels is not advised. This is because zinc consumption may lower iron and copper levels.