Supplements After 50: Zinc

Oysters are a great source of zinc

This article is part of a series called “Supplements After 50”. You can view other posts in the series here: creatine, fish oil, vitamin D, magnesium, leucine, and protein.

Why Zinc?

Zinc is a micronutrient that is essential for your health. Zinc has been linked to a host of conditions (1) but for us middle-aged guys there are some specific reasons to supplement, like age-related vision loss, colon and rectal tumors, depression, muscle cramps, protein synthesis, and testosterone production(2).

As an athlete and middle-aged man with steadily decreasing testosterone and sarcopenia (age-related muscle shrinkage), the protein synthesis and testosterone production benefits are enough for me.

Sources of Zinc

Zinc is not something that is made in, or stored by, your body, so you’ve got to get it from an external source, either from food or by supplements. Food sources of zinc include oysters (super high in zinc) and beef, then in lower amounts in legumes, chicken and pork.(3)

When it comes to supplements, there are (at least) two things to take into consideration:

  1. Zinc as a gluconate has a couple of advantages over other zinc supplements. First, apparently many zinc supplements frequently contain cadmium as well because they two are “chemically similar and found together in nature”. When zinc is processed as zinc gluconate it contains lower levels of cadmium(1). Second, gluconates are often absorbed by the body easier than other methods, like zinc oxide.(4) (That’s why I also take magnesium as a gluconate as well).
  2. ZMA (zinc, magnesium aspartate, and B6) is a combination that has a controversial past. In 2000 the Journal of Exercise Physiology published a study(5) that showed that when a group of NCAA football players took a formulation of ZMA their free testosterone increased 30% (wow!) along with increases in growth hormone. However, the company who made the ZMA supplement also sponsored the study (conflict of interest), and subsequent studies haven’t been able to replicate the findings.

Final Thoughts on Zinc

It’s important to note that while doing the research on zinc supplementation I found several studies and statements across sites that said that most Americans and Europeans weren’t deficient in zinc. You can (and probably should) be tested for zinc levels during your annual checkup.

With that said, here is how and why I supplement: Since zinc is not produced or stored by the body, it’s essential that we get it from outside sources. Our bodies also use more zinc or flush zinc depending on our activity level. For instance,  zinc loss happens as we sweat and our need for zinc increases if our body is under certain stresses. As an athlete I beat my body up five days a week. I sweat buckets and damage my body through heavy resistance and interval training, and occasional rugby games and practices. With that in mind, I supplement primarily on days when I’ve had a physically grueling workout. It’s typical for me to supplement with 50mg before bed on Monday/Wednesday/Friday because they’re heavy lifting days, or after a rugby match. Otherwise, on running or interval training days or weekend recovery days, I won’t supplement.

Finally, I’ve been waiting for my magnesium and zinc supplements to run low so that I can do a round of ZMA supplementation. If I’m already taking these two minerals, then I don’t see the harm in replacing my current regimen with ZMA to see if I notice a difference. (Of course, it will be subjective since I won’t be getting blood work done during the trial).

Do you take a zinc supplement? If so, what kind and why?  Share in the comments below.

References

[1] https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-982/zinc
[2] “Zinc status and serum testosterone levels of healthy adults.”, Nutrition, 1996, May 12, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8875519?dopt=Abstract&holding=npg
[3] https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/
[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3901420/
[5] “Effects of a Novel Zinc-Magnesium Formulation on Hormones and Strength”, Journal of Exercise Physiology online, Volume 3 Number 4 October 2000, https://www.asep.org/asep/asep/BrillaV2.PDF