Something to ‘zinc’ about in protecting prostate health

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Something to ‘zinc’ about in protecting prostate health

Zinc will always appear last on an alphabetical listing of nutrients, but for men it should be listed number one for its important role in their prostate health and sexual functioning.  Zinc’s special role in men’s sexual health revolves around the hormone testosterone and the prostate gland.  Before diving into how zinc can keep a man’s prostate healthy and his sex life alive, let’s explore what is zinc first.

What is zinc?

Zinc is an essential trace mineral naturally present in some foods, added to others, and available as a dietary supplement. For being a trace mineral, zinc has a big job with many important roles in the human body.  From working with proteins in every organ and tissue, helping wounds heal, necessary for sperm production, taste perception, normal metabolic rate, nerve and brain functioning, bone growth, and normal development in children, among other roles it has – zinc does it all.

But for men, zinc plays a special role just for them.

Zinc and testosterone

In order for normal development and function of the male sex organs, zinc is necessary. Men with a zinc deficiency have been shown to have less developed testes and reduced sperm count.  Two key hormones found in men, testosterone and prolactin, require zinc for their production in addition to zinc’s role in creating the main component of prostatic fluid of the prostate.

The role of zinc in a man’s sexual health is partly related to the impact this mineral has on testosterone.  When a man has sufficient stores of zinc, the levels of testosterone should be adequate to enhance sexual health and improving sex drive.  Men experiencing erectile dysfunction associated with low testosterone may have a zinc deficiency contributing to erectile challenges.

For men with kidney disease, they may want to consider taking a zinc supplement.  A 2010 review of studies concerning sexual health and function among individuals with kidney disease, looked at the impact of taking zinc supplements.  It was found that use of zinc supplements can increased testosterone levels and improve the potency and frequency of sexual intercourse.

Zinc and the prostate gland

Zinc and the prostate gland have an interesting relationship – the highest concentrations of zinc are found in the soft tissue of the prostate along with high amounts of zinc found in prostatic fluid.  In fact, zinc concentrations accumulate 10 to 15 times higher in the prostate than in any other body tissues. 

Also interesting is that zinc concentrations are much lower in the tissues of a malignant or cancerous prostate (about 10-25%) than of what’s found in a healthy nonmalignant prostate.  High concentrations of zinc appear to be necessary for keeping the prostate healthy by acting as a powerful tumor suppressor.  The high levels of zinc appear to prevent cancer cell migration and invasion into other tissues and could also be the missing link for why it could help keep the prostate healthy.

Men from age 19 and up require 11 mg of zinc a day.  Most men do meet this requirement but as they age, their dietary habits can change and their intake may not be optimal. Epidemiological studies have shown that men with higher levels of zinc, whether from food sources or a supplement, have better protection from advanced prostate cancer.  There was also a case control study that observed reduced prostate cancer risk with the usage of individual zinc supplements.  However, other studies have shown that long-term and/or high dosage use of zinc supplements may increase the risk of prostate cancer. 

A study conducted in Sweden, which has one of the highest prostate mortality rates in the world accounting for 22% of cancer deaths in men, suggested that men diagnosed with a localized tumor or with early-stage prostate cancer and who consumed foods rich in zinc, were 76% less likely to die of prostate cancer than men with a lower intake of zinc.   This study only looked at the effect of dietary or food sources of zinc and not at zinc supplements.  Some dietary sources of zinc include the following:

·      Beef steak – 3 oz contains 4.9 mg

·      Oysters – 3 oz contains 67 mg

·      Shrimp – 3 oz contains 1.5 mg

·      Pork chop – 3 oz contains 2.8 mg

·      Yogurt – 1 cup contains 2.2 mg

·      Enriched cereal – ¾ cup contains 15 mg

·      Red kidney beans – ½ cup contains 2 mg

It is important to note that zinc from meat sources is absorbed better than zinc from vegetarian sources.  Legumes and whole grains contain phytic acid which inhibits zinc bioavailability or absorption. 

The best advice is to consult with your doctor for their recommendation on whether to supplement with zinc or not. The 2010 Swedish cohort study suggested that their results were not sufficient to recommend zinc supplements.  In the meantime consume rich food sources of zinc, particularly from animal sources, to have the best outcome.