Zinc is effective treatment for acne, PCOS, period pain, and many other periods problems. Second only to magnesium, zinc is the supplement I prescribe most often for women’s health.
7 benefits of zinc
- Regulates cycles. Zinc nourishes ovarian follicles (eggs) and so promotes ovulation. And regular ovulation is the only way to achieve both regular menstrual cycles and a good supply of estrogen and progesterone. Your ovaries love zinc!
⚠️ Tip: Please allow three months to see improvement because ovarian follicles take 100 days to grow. For more information about the 100 days, see my book Period Repair Manual, and my post Road Map to Progesterone.
- Blocks excess androgens (testosterone). Zinc inhibits overactivity of the enzyme 5 alpha-reductase and reduces the conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT). That’s one way it treats PCOS symptoms such as acne and hirsutism (facial hair). Another way it can treat hirsutism is by inhibiting excess prolactin. See 4 Causes of Androgen Excess.
⚠️ Tip: Because it’s involved in so many different enzyme pathways, zinc has different effects in different people. For example, it reduces the abnormally high androgens of PCOS-sufferers, but it can also raise androgens to a healthy level in both men and women. But just to be clear: Zinc will never raise testosterone above normal levels.
- Clears skin. Zinc is arguably the perfect medicine for acne. In addition to blocking excess androgens, it kills bacteria and opens pores by reducing keratin production. It works best when combined with an anti-acne diet. Please see my latest acne post.
- Maintains collagen. Zinc maintains the integrity of collagen in connective tissue and hair, and it’s particularly good for the hair loss associated with thyroid disease.
- Supports thyroid. Together with iodine and selenium, zinc is essential for the synthesis and activation of thyroid hormone. In fact, it’s closely interlinked with thyroid hormone: Zinc promotes thyroid hormone, which, in turn, promotes the better absorption of zinc.
- Dials down cortisol and the stress response. Zinc is essential for the healthy functioning of the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain that regulates the HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis and cortisol. (The HPA axis is more accurately termed the HHPA or hippocampal-hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.) For a great discussion of zinc and the hippocampus, please see Zinc: an Antidepressant by Dr. Emily Deans.
- Reduces inflammation. Zinc has powerful anti-inflammatory properties, which is why it relieves period pain. It’s also a key part of the natural treatment protocol for the inflammatory condition endometriosis. Please see Endometriosis: 5 Natural Treatments that Really Work.
Who needs zinc?
Deficiency affects at least a third of the world’s population (probably more). Your body cannot store zinc, so you need to eat or supplement it quite regularly.
Best food sources include oysters and red meat, so if you’re vegetarian, you’re probably deficient. Other causes of deficiency include alcohol, stomach medication, hormonal birth control, underactive thyroid, and some types of blood pressure medication.
Testing for zinc deficiency
I routinely screen for deficiency with the simple and inexpensive test “plasma zinc” (reference range 11-23 umol/L or 70-150 ug/dL). It’s not a perfect test because most zinc is inside the cells, not in the plasma. So someone with a ‘normal’ test can still be deficient. I also look at history (eg. vegetarian or medication), and deficiency symptoms such as hair loss, dermatitis, impaired immune function, and white spots on the fingernails.
Dose and safety
I prescribe 20-30 mg per day (or short-term higher dose for acne), and I give it in the form of citrate or picolinate taken directly after food. That minimizes the gastric irritation or nausea that can occur with zinc.
Long-term supplementation of more than 80 mg interferes with copper and iron metabolism and can impair the function of the immune system and possibly the hippocampus.
What is your experience with zinc? Please comment.