A vitamin for hormone health? Think zinc

Hormones and Vitamins

Natural aging, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, limited diets, poor gut health, overconsumption of alcohol, and hypothyroidism can all play a role in your ability to get enough or utilize zinc. Yet, as the second most plentiful trace mineral in the body, it’s vital to overall well-being—and hormone health.

Progesterone, PMS, periods & zinc

Chronic stress leads to elevated cortisol. High cortisol can deplete zinc in the body. But the good news? Making sure you get enough zinc can help reverse the trend.

When you consume zinc, your body temporarily stops releasing cortisol. Which means that, over time, getting enough zinc could help normalize cortisol levels. And keeping cortisol levels in check means a lot for your periods.

Progesterone is an important sex hormone. If cortisol stays high for too long, progesterone suffers. Low progesterone can be a problem for your menstrual cycle. It can make you skip your period. Or, if your progesterone’s low but your estradiol (estrogen) is high, you could be stuck with heavy, frequent bleeding.

But zinc is good for more than regular cycles. For some women, zinc can help with premenstrual cramping. In fact, one study found 31 mg of zinc per day eased PMS symptoms in women. The study hypothesized zinc increases circulation in small blood vessels, and the improved blood flow offers relief.

Hypothyroidism & zinc

Along with copper and selenium, your thyroid needs zinc to function. Low levels of zinc can lead to reduced production of thyroid hormones, triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). Your body also relies on zinc for thyroid hormone conversion, so it can turn T4 (inactive thyroid hormone) into T3, a form readily usable by cells.

But what’s also worth nothing: adequate thyroid hormones help with absorption of zinc. Meaning, there’s a catch-22. Low zinc affects thyroid hormone levels. And, untreated hypothyroidism can eventually lead to zinc deficiency. If you are on thyroid medications but still feel hypothyroid, make an appointment with your physician. You’ll want to discuss whether or not you’re on the right thyroid meds for your body or if you could benefit from an increased intake of zinc.

Menopause & zinc

Menopause and postmenopause are great times to re-evaluate zinc intake. As you age, you tend to consume less of the mineral, and it’s harder for your body to efficiently absorb it. While true deficiencies are uncommon, suboptimal levels can easily go unnoticed or be attributed to other factors.

Along with helping the immune system and decreasing inflammation, zinc preserves lean tissue by helping the body make proteins. This is especially important in menopause and postmenopause. After age 30, inactive adults can lose about 3% of muscle mass per decade. By the time a woman is in her 50s or 60s, the total loss can be substantial and affect balance and overall health and well-being.

Yet another reason to pay attention to zinc? Its role in bone density. Zinc is found in bone tissue and builds bone mass, helping to prevent osteoporosis. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, nearly 10 million Americans have osteoporosis—and 8 million of those are female. In fact, stats say, after age 50, one out of every two women will experience a broken bone due to the condition.

PCOS & zinc

Studies show zinc may help with fertility and offer some relief for hair loss and hirsutism, or the growth of coarse, dark hair where it otherwise wouldn’t normally grow. Zinc acts as a 5-alpha reductase inhibitor, limiting the conversion of excess testosterone into dihydrotestosterone—a strong androgen hormone associated with both symptoms.

In one 8-week study, 50 mg per day of zinc helped with hirsutism and hair thinning. Because zinc can have negative side effects and be unsafe at levels higher than 40 mg daily, it’s vital to speak with your provider about supplementation. He or she can determine whether or not it’s safe for you and what dosage you should take.

Improving zinc intake through your diet

Including a variety of whole-food, zinc-rich sources in your diet is a great way to safely increase your consumption. Oysters, red meat, chicken, seafood, dairy, nuts, beans, and whole grains are all good options. However, if you’re dealing with PCOS, you may want to limit dairy to two servings per day.

Supplementing with zinc

As with any dedicated supplement, it’s good to run your questions and concerns by your healthcare provider before starting. Too much zinc can cause side effects like stomach upset and nausea, and high amounts can even have a toxic effect.

If your provider gives you the go-ahead to start a zinc supplement, follow his or her recommendations on dosage and quantity. Zinc is best taken about an hour after meals. Anyone on an antibiotic or dedicated iron supplement will want to take it separately from zinc—both can hinder absorption.