Erectile dysfunction (ED) is one of the most common sexual problems that men deal with. There are a host of different causes of ED that range from nutrient deficiencies to clinical depression. It’s important to talk to a medical professional about ED, in order to determine the cause of the issue before exploring treatment options. That said, erectile dysfunction has been found in recent years to be a symptom of zinc deficiency.
Low levels of zinc can be the cause for a variety of health-related problems. Zinc is a key mineral that cells use to metabolize nutrients. Immune function, DNA and protein production, and cell division are all related to zinc levels in the body. Zinc also enables the male body to produce testosterone. Because of this, your levels of zinc may affect erectile dysfunction.
Despite its importance, many adults do not get enough zinc.
Zinc is a trace metallic element that occurs naturally in the earth. Certain vegetables, meats, and seafood have more zinc content than others. This makes it fairly easy to obtain zinc through a varied diet. An extreme zinc deficiency is rare in the United States, as most people get some zinc through the foods that they eat. However, when levels of zinc fall below the recommended threshold, problems begin.
Some of the side effects of zinc deficiency include:
- slow growth in children
- trouble fighting off illnesses
- weight loss
- lack of appetite
If not addressed, a zinc deficiency can result in hair loss, eye and skin lesions, and delayed wound healing, among other things. Low zinc is a known culprit in cases of hypogonadism and impotence.
Risk Factors for Zinc Deficiency
Certain groups of people are more likely to have low zinc levels. Conditions that can cause an increased risk of zinc deficiency include:
- gastrointestinal diseases
- eating disorders
- a purely vegetarian or low-protein diet
High levels of alcohol consumption can result in a zinc deficiency. Some medications can reduce zinc levels. These include ACE inhibitors, thiazide diuretics, and stomach acid reducers like Zantac and Prilosec.
Zinc Deficiency and Erectile Dysfunction
A 1996 study showed a very clear relationship between zinc and testosterone levels. Young men were fed a diet including very little zinc so that they developed a zinc deficiency. Testosterone levels were measured and there was a significant decrease (almost 75 percent) after 20 weeks of a low-zinc diet.
The study also examined zinc supplementation in elderly men. Researchers showed that with increased zinc intake, testosterone levels in the elderly population almost doubled. This is pretty powerful evidence that zinc has an impact on testosterone production.
In 2009, animal research was conducted to again test the correlation between zinc and sexual function. Rats that were treated with 5 milligrams per day of a zinc supplement were shown to have better sexual function. This particular study concluded that in males, zinc has a positive effect on arousal and maintaining an erection.
A 2013 study shows that sense of smell may actually be important to libido, especially in younger men. That means that zinc deficiency, which can reduce sense of smell, may also reduce libido. Zinc not only impacts the level of testosterone, but may cause a loss of the ability to detect subtle chemicals that induce arousal.
Treating Erectile Dysfunction
Most men who have ED don’t necessarily have abnormal levels of testosterone. Heart disease, diabetes, nervous system conditions, injuries, and stress are more likely to cause ED. But hypogonadism or insufficient testosterone can cause ED in some men. These two problems can be linked back to zinc deficiency.
Testosterone levels decrease naturally as men age, and certain medications can impact testosterone levels. Hyper- or hypothyroidism can impact testosterone and libido. And zinc can have a dramatic impact on testosterone levels in those with zinc deficiency.
Taking zinc in supplement form is just one of many treatments for those looking for help with ED. Many men use supplements either to replace prescription medications like Viagra and Cialis, or to enhance the effectiveness of these medications. Some other natural supplements aimed at relieving ED symptoms include Korean red ginseng, L-Arginine, carnitine, and DHEA.
Zinc therapy is slightly different than these other treatments for one crucial reason. Zinc treatments may improve the body’s natural levels of testosterone, provided the patient has a zinc deficiency. Studies are still being performed to provide conclusive evidence on the efficacy of natural supplements to relieve ED symptoms.
For an adult male, 11 milligrams of zinc per day is considered the ideal amount to consume. Women should limit their zinc intake to 8 milligrams per day.
A high-protein diet will usually contain enough zinc. Meats such as beef, pork, lamb, and chicken are all good sources of zinc. Nuts, whole grains, legumes, and yeast also contain zinc.
Zinc supplements are available in multivitamins, or as zinc gluconate, zinc sulfate, or zinc acetate. Zinc orotate is zinc that has been distilled to acid and is considered the most accessible form of zinc for the human body.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ingesting levels of zinc in excess of the recommended dietary amount will result in diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach cramps. The maximum amount of daily zinc consumption recommended is 40 milligrams per day. Symptoms of too much zinc intake include nausea and headaches. If you have reason to suspect you have ingested too much zinc, contact a medical professional.
The human body only contains 2 or 3 grams of zinc at any given time. Zinc is distributed throughout the body in organs, blood, and bones. It can be difficult to diagnose zinc deficiency. While a low blood zinc level does indicate a deficiency, a normal blood level does not necessarily indicate the absence of a deficiency. And examination of the hair for zinc or a zinc taste test (ZTT) may also be used for supportive evidence in the diagnosis of zinc deficiency.
It’s important to note that high levels of zinc can reduce available copper in the body and affect iron levels. High levels of zinc can also interfere with different kinds of medications. Though it is estimated that 40 milligrams of zinc supplement are safe for men to take daily, there is no long-term research into the effects that this practice could yield.
Zinc distributes all over the body, so it’s difficult to test through a blood test. If you have problems with erectile dysfunction or suspect that you might have a zinc deficiency, talk with your doctor. A medical professional will be able to check your testosterone level and determine if using zinc supplements to treat your ED is an appropriate course of action.