Zinc’s Role in Fighting Off COVID-19 and Protecting Fertility: New Research in Brief
We’ve known that zinc plays a role in alleviating oxidative stress, maintaining homeostasis and fighting against infections. However, zinc is also essential in both male and female reproductive function: It’s the element necessary to facilitate the functions of reproductive organs, complete meiosis and development of high-quality blastocyst. Research shows that 31% of the global population is zinc deficient.
Now, researchers from Wayne State University School of Medicine in Michigan theorize that depletion of zinc due to a COVID-19 infection may have fertility implications - and posit that zinc supplementation may be an effective way to both fight against COVID-19 and safeguard male and female fertility. The study, published in the journal Reproductive Sciences, adds to the emerging body of research on COVID-19’s effects on pregnancy and fertility.
- Title: Potential Role of Zinc in the COVID-19 Disease Process and Its Probable Impact on Reproduction
- Authors: Ramya Sethuram, David Bai & Husam M. Abu-Soud
- Publication date: January 7, 2021
- Journal: Reproductive Sciences
- Study type: Review
- Like in other infectious diseases, COVID-19 produces reactive oxygen species known to significantly reduce male and female fertility, as well as pregnancy rates after IVF/ICSI.
- Depletion of zinc due to the oxidative pressure from COVID-19 may have fertility implications.
- Supplementing with zinc, which reduces reactive oxygen species, may be an effective way to fight against COVID-19’s impacts on organ systems, as well as sperm and oocytes.
Zinc and Reproduction
Studies have shown zinc to be essential in both male and female fertility. In men, zinc stabilizes the DNA in sperm through its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant functions and facilitates steroidogenesis. In women, zinc plays an important role in sexual development, oocyte maturation, maintenance of pregnancy to term and normal fetal development. Because of its role in facilitating normal cell division, zinc has been known to influence the quality of gametes (sperm and oocytes), as well as embryos.
What This Means for You & Your Fertility
- Have your zinc and copper levels tested
- The Mayo Clinic Laboratory uses the reference range of 0.66 to 1.10 mcg/mL as the normal zinc levels in blood for adults. However, how much zinc is present in our body can be difficult to assess via blood tests because zinc exists as components of various proteins and nucleic acids throughout our body. Furthermore, serum levels of zinc don’t always correlate with how much zinc is available to cells, because of its role in maintaining the body’s homeostasis. The good news is that severe zinc deficiency is uncommon in the United States and other developed countries.
- Eat foods high in zinc. Zinc-rich foods include:
- Animal-derived foods (generally the easiest source of zinc). A 3-oz serving of fried oysters have a whopping 74 mg of zinc. Beef, pork and some seafood, like crab and lobster, are also at the top of the zinc-rich food list.
- If you are vegetarian, beans and legumes, dairy products like yogurt and cheese, nuts and seeds are good sources of zinc. However, the phytates in whole grains and beans/legumes bind to zinc, inhibiting its absorption. Because of this phytate action, zinc in plant-derived foods isn’t as bioavailable as zinc from meats, seafood and dairy, but they are still a good natural source of zinc.
- Consider taking a zinc supplement if you're in one of these groups:
- Although the recommended dietary intake for pregnant women is 11mg/day, those are levels required to keep you out of a deficient state, rather than an optimal level. You can safely take between 10 – 30 mg of zinc per day in the form of zinc picolinate, glycinate, or citrate. Make sure you also take a prenatal or multivitamin that also contains copper, as taking too much zinc for longer periods may cause a copper deficiency.
- You may also consider taking a zinc supplement if you are in a group at higher risk of not getting enough zinc from regular diet. This group includes, among others:
- Women taking birth control pills (or who just came off of them)
- Consuming oral contraceptive pills further increases the risk of zinc deficiency by increasing the body's utilization of zinc. Studies have shown that even a small dose of birth pills can negatively affect zinc levels. The reduction in zinc levels is directly proportional to the duration for which oral pills are taken.
- When it comes to reducing your risk of COVID-19 in the first place, consider getting vaccinated. Here’s a leading fertility expert’s take on the COVID-19 vaccine, in case you missed it. Plus, both American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and American Society for Reproductive Medicine--the two prominent professional organizations in the fertility arena--recommend COVID-19 vaccinations for women who are planning to get pregnant, are receiving fertility treatments or are already pregnant.
Talk to Your Doctor or Dietitian
Symptoms of zinc deficiency include loss of smell/taste and resulting loss of appetite; impaired immune function and slow healing of wounds. However, partially because zinc deficiency happens as a result of other conditions, symptoms can be vague and non-specific. Talk to your doctor or registered dietitian if you are concerned about not getting enough zinc - for both a better odds of fighting off COVID-19 and a better chance of successful pregnancy.