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Zinc and Erectile Dysfunction: Is There a Connection?

June 11, 2021

As more research into erectile dysfunction and its causes has emerged in the last twenty years – spurred on by the approval of effective treatments like Viagra® in 1998 – more otherwise unrelated circumstances are being connected to ED. One example is the possible connection between the mineral zinc and erectile dysfunction.    

What Is Erectile Dysfunction?

There are a host of well-understood physiological and psychological causes of ED, defined as the inability to achieve or maintain an erection firm enough for sex.

Medical conditions related to the cardiovascular and circulatory system (such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes) are common culprits, though ED is also often the result of mental health concerns, including stress, anxiety, and depression. 

In many cases, ED might present as a side effect of medications, and in some cases due to a deficiency in certain vitamins and nutrients. Finding – and ideally resolving – the root cause is one of the best ways to address ED.

While that may be a difficult process, there are a few things that can help reduce the frequency and severity of erectile dysfunction. These primarily include lifestyle changes like:

  • Getting more exercise. A daily walk for 30 minutes can significantly reduce the risk of erectile dysfunction. For the most part, the stronger your heart, the stronger the erection.
  • Eliminating bad habits. Drinking less alcohol and quitting smoking can immediately improve blood flow and erectile function, as well as many other bodily functions. 
  • Get enough sleep. The body needs rest to repair and perform critical functions. Disrupting sleep patterns can severely interrupt normal bodily functions, including sexual.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Reducing sodium, processed foods, sugar, and saturated fats can help to reduce the risk of atherosclerosis. Replacing processed foods with leafy green vegetables and whole foods can further improve cardiovascular health.
  • Reduce stress. While it may be difficult, find healthy outlets for stress relief. Exercise can be a great way to blow off some steam and improve cardiovascular health. 

What Is Zinc?

Zinc is a trace metallic element that naturally occurs in the earth. Zinc is an important mineral that's key to a variety of essential functions. Some of these critical processes include the metabolization of nutrients, various functions of the immune system, cell division, and the production of DNA and protein. 

While it’s clearly an important element to human physiology, it's not endogenously produced by the body. This means that the only way to get zinc is by ingesting it either through foods or supplements. The average person has around two to three grams of zinc in their body at any one time, stored in blood, organs, tissues, fluids, and cells. When these stored levels of zinc dip below two grams, it’s possible for a zinc deficiency to develop. 

What Is A Zinc Deficiency?

When someone does not meet their zinc needs, they may experience a zinc deficiency. Since zinc is found in lots of foods, it's uncommon for most Americans to have any sort of zinc deficiency. 

For adult men, it's recommended to get at least 11 milligrams of zinc every day. This is a fairly easy target to reach, even on a daily basis. For example, a three ounce serving of cooked, breaded, or fried oysters is about 74.1 milligrams, nearly 700% of the required daily amount. 

However, some estimates indicate that nearly 17% of the global population may have a zinc deficiency. Other sources put that number as high as two billion people, particularly in  developing countries. 

A zinc deficiency can have serious consequences, although it seems that the severity can vary dramatically. Some of these potential side effects include:

  • Acne
  • A lack of appetite
  • Blood clotting
  • Dermatitis or psoriasis
  • Delayed healing of wounds
  • Fatigue or minimal amounts of energy
  • Hair loss or thinning
  • Long term diarrhea
  • Long term respiratory infections
  • Mental fatigue and brain fog
  • Pneumonia
  • Sudden and severe weight loss
  • Thyroid issues
  • Sensory impairment, particular a loss of smell and taste
  • Skin or eye lesions
  • Weakened or less effective immune system

Who Is At Risk For Zinc Deficiency?

Zinc deficiencies are typically the result of a poor or imbalanced diet, though there are plenty of risk factors that can contribute to developing a zinc deficiency. 

Pregnant women, young children, and elderly adults over the age of 65 are at highest risk of developing a zinc deficiency, but it can happen to anyone with the following risk factors: 

  • Eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia
  • Gastrointestinal diseases such as Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, or inflammatory bowel disease
  • High levels of alcohol consumption or abuse
  • Liver and kidney disease
  • Medications such as ACE inhibitors, thiazide diuretics, or stomach acid reducers
  • Vegan, vegetarian, or low protein diet

In addition, some foods can block the body’s absorption of zinc due to their high concentration of phytic acid. A diet high in beans, seeds, nuts, and grains can result in the development of a zinc deficiency, while foods like garlic and onions can help with the absorption of iron and zinc.

Zinc Deficiency and Sexual Dysfunctions

As noted, a zinc deficiency can have a negative impact on several essential bodily functions. It can also have a significant impact on sexual functions as well. Zinc is important in the production of testosterone, the primary male sex hormone, for example. 

While zinc itself might not be a treatment for sexual dysfunction, it’s clear that a deficiency can lead to the development of several sexual issues.

During one clinical study, participants were given a low-zinc diet for 20 weeks. By the end of the experiment, three out of four men were experiencing significantly lower testosterone levels than when they started. This same study also recorded the testosterone levels of elderly men when given zinc supplements. Their testosterone levels nearly doubled over the course of the experiment.

Low testosterone levels can have a substantial impact on overall sexual function for men. 

In addition to low testosterone, a zinc deficiency can lower sperm quality, resulting in male infertility, hypogonadism that can result in less developed testes, along with reduced sperm count, and erectile dysfunction. One study performed on rats indicated that a daily dose of five milligrams of zinc helped to improve their overall sexual function, specifically their arousal, quality of erections, and penile thrusting. 

How To Get Enough Zinc

Fortunately, zinc is found in an abundance of foods. Even in the event of dietary restrictions or allergies, zinc supplements can provide enough daily zinc to avoid a deficiency.

In general, a diet that's sufficient in protein should naturally include enough zinc to meet daily requirements. Some of the foods that are highest in zinc include:

  • Almonds
  • Baked beans
  • Cashews 
  • Chicken
  • Crab
  • Dark chocolate
  • Green beans
  • Lamb
  • Lean beef
  • Lima beans
  • Oysters
  • Peas
  • Pork
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sesame seeds
  • Soy beans
  • Squash seed
  • Toasted wheat germ
  • Turkey
  • Veal liver
  • Whole grains
  • Wild rice
  • Yeast

When you have an excess of zinc, the body will typically eliminate the excess in urine. If you're taking supplements, though, be careful not to exceed 40 milligrams daily. Consuming more than this amount of zinc could lead to some side effects including:

  • Diarrhea
  • Drowsiness
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Loss of muscle coordination
  • Nausea
  • Stomach cramps
  • Vomiting

The Takeaway: Zinc and erectile dysfunction have a clear connection. A zinc deficiency can hinder several functions related to testosterone and the reproductive system, and one potential side effect of these disruptions is erectile dysfunction.

It’s important to maintain the right amount of zinc in your body for normal function, which won't be an issue for the average American. If you have an atypical diet, that may not be the case. Since this mineral is a trace element, it must be ingested daily through diet or supplementation. In the event that you're experiencing sexual dysfunctions as the result of a zinc deficiency, restoring zinc levels to normal should help to alleviate the issue.

In the event that your ED is related to something else, medications like Viagra® may help. PDE5 inhibitors like Viagra and Cialis® are effective in over 80% of men, according to research, and they've been used by millions of guys for twenty years. Find out if they're right for you, and have real ED meds delivered to your door with Rex MD (if prescribed).

Get started with your online consultation today.