If you have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), you’ve likely heard some buzz about using supplements for managing your symptoms. But, is zinc one of the ones you’ve heard about?
Would it surprise you to hear that those with PCOS are also at a higher risk for zinc deficiency? I know, I know…like we need more things to worry about! The good news is that there are easy ways to address this!
Hi, I’m Alyssa, a registered dietitian and PCOS expert – I also have PCOS myself. Read more about my story and PCOS diagnosis here.
This article will outline everything you should know about zinc for PCOS.
This post may contain affiliate links.
Zinc is an essential mineral that also functions as an antioxidant. Zinc is involved in over 300 enzyme reactions in the body! This mineral plays an important role in the growth and development of cells, DNA synthesis, protein building, wound healing, maintaining your sense of taste & smell, and supporting a healthy immune system (1).
Research has been conducted to examine the role of zinc supplements for PCOS with interesting findings. I’ll outline the results for each category below.
Many women with PCOS are insulin resistant. This means that their body makes the hormone insulin but it just can’t use it very effectively, causing their body to produce more insulin to compensate. High insulin levels often lead to weight gain.
Zinc plays a crucial role in glucose metabolism and insulin metabolism including the production, storage, and release of insulin. Because of this, zinc deficiency increases the risk for high blood sugar levels, insulin resistance, and the development of type 2 diabetes.
In fact, it has been suggested that low zinc levels may play a role in the development of insulin resistance in PCOS. Studies have also shown that zinc supplementation can lower fasting glucose levels, improve insulin sensitivity, and may be beneficial for preventing the onset of type 2 diabetes (4, 5).
Chronic inflammation is believed to be one of the core driving factors of PCOS symptoms. Inflammation can not only increase insulin levels and insulin resistance, but it can also cause higher testosterone levels too.
Zinc is not only a mineral, but it also has antioxidant properties so ensuring adequate amounts of zinc in your diet can lower oxidative stress and inflammation levels.
An increased cardiovascular disease risk accompanies PCOS and up to 70% have elevated lipid levels, or high cholesterol.
Research shows that zinc lowers total cholesterol, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and triglyceride levels (6).
Androgenic alopecia (hair loss) and hirsutism (unwanted body and facial hair growth) are two common symptoms of PCOS. They’re usually caused by high androgen levels, such as high testosterone. These two symptoms can wreak havoc on a woman’s self confidence and damage a person’s body image.
Research has shown a significant decrease in both hirsutism and hair loss by those who took 220mg zinc sulfate (50 mg/day of elemental zinc) daily for an 8 week period versus the placebo group (7).
If you’re still struggling with acne in your adult years, zinc may help to clear your skin up too. Although it hasn’t been studied well specifically in PCOS, research has shown that zinc supplementation can have a positive effect on reducing moderate to severe acne (8).
PMS symptoms like cramping, bloating, and headaches can often feel debilitating for some people. Research is showing that zinc may be a good option to help relieve some of those awful symptoms.
One study showed that those who were given 30mg of zinc daily for 12 weeks had a significant decrease in their PMS symptoms.
Another common symptom of PCOS is irregular periods and infertility. Zinc levels have been found to be lower in those diagnosed with infertility so zinc may be helpful to improve fertility.
Zinc is necessary for follicle maturation, healthy ovulation, fertilization, fetal growth and development, and healthy pregnancy. It’s also necessary for optimal egg quality as well.
If you suffer from depression, anxiety, or even sleep issues, getting more zinc may be helpful to reduce these. One study showed that lower dietary zinc intake was linked to a higher rate of depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders.
Now that we’ve outlined all the benefits that zinc can have for PCOS, you may be wondering if you should take a supplement, what type of zinc you should take, and how much you should take.
I believe that a food-first approach is always the best way to get your nutrients. Including foods that are high in zinc will also provide you with other valuable nutrients that will benefit your overall health.
Zinc is naturally present in some foods. Animal based sources of zinc are the most easily absorbed sources.
Good sources of zinc include:
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for zinc is 8 mg for women. For pregnancy and breastfeeding, 11-12 mg of zinc is recommended. Check the list below for the amount of zinc in certain foods.
Common symptoms of zinc deficiency include:
There is a blood test that can screen for zinc deficiency. The problem is that serum zinc levels are not 100% accurate because they don’t effectively measure the circulating levels of zinc very well.
After talking to your healthcare provider, if you’re going to try a zinc supplement, look for one of the forms that’s best absorbed by our bodies: zinc glycinate, zinc gluconate, zinc citrate, or zinc picolinate. It’s best to take zinc supplements on an empty stomach to enhance absorption.
The typical recommended dosage for zinc is 30-60 mg per day.
Most studies referenced in this article used 50mg of zinc to see beneficial effects, however, these studies were typically short term. The tolerable upper intake level for zinc is 40mg for women (including those who are pregnant or breastfeeding).
Since most people do get some zinc from their diets, you may not need a high amount of zinc from a supplement. It’s also important to consider that if you’re taking other supplements, such as a multivitamin or a prenatal vitamin, it may contain some zinc in it as well. Always check your supplements for any nutrient overlap.
It’s very difficult to get too much zinc from food alone, however, too much zinc from supplements is more common and could cause side effects.
Zinc supplements are generally well tolerated in moderate amounts, but potential adverse effects include gastrointestinal upset like nausea, upset stomach, vomiting, or loss of appetite.
Long-term use of high dose zinc supplements can cause copper deficiency and reduced immune function.
Zinc supplements can also interfere with certain medications, such as diuretics and antibiotics.
Zinc is an essential nutrient that plays an important role in overall health and PCOS. Women with PCOS tend to have lower levels of zinc.
Zinc may help to decrease metabolic complications by lowering glucose, insulin, cholesterol, and inflammation levels. It also may help to reduce symptoms of high androgen levels such as acne, hair loss, and hirsutism. Zinc is also necessary for supporting regular menstrual cycles and ovulation and may enhance fertility.
Include more high zinc foods such as oysters, crab, beef, pork, oats, fortified cereals, cashews, and pumpkin seeds into your diet routinely.
Zinc supplementation may be an effective treatment tool for PCOS, especially if you suspect that your zinc levels are low. Zinc glycinate, gluconate, citrate, or picolinate are some of the best absorbed forms of zinc supplements.
The typical dosage recommendation for supplementation is 30-60 mg zinc per day.
If you want more information and guidance on the best supplements for PCOS, check out my PCOS Lab & Supplement Guides.
Disclaimer: This is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be used as a substitute for medical advice. Always consult with your medical doctor before starting any dietary supplements.
Learn the most common nutrition mistakes I see women with PCOS making and what to do instead!