A year into the pandemic, we’re still uncovering how COVID-19 might impact the body long-term. Many of the extended effects we’ve seen thus far have been related to the symptoms of the virus itself, such as heart problems or trouble breathing. As we dig deeper, though, some of those effects are a bit more unexpected: Erectile dysfunction is experienced by some COVID long-haulers, and now, researchers are reporting that COVID might impact fertility in both men and women. Fortunately, they think something as simple as zinc could be the solution.
According to a study published in Reproductive Sciences in early February, doctors at Wayne State University in Michigan have found a link between zinc deficiency and an overactive immune response in fighting COVID-19. For some who become sick with the virus, the immune system can produce a cytokine storm, in which a protein called cytokines are released into the bloodstream, leading to inflammation, tissue damage and possible organ failure. Cytokines can further cause mitochondrial damage to sperm and egg cells, rendering them unable to reproduce.
While zinc supplementation may not ward off a cytokine storm entirely, the researchers assert that as an anti-inflammatory agent, it could help mitigate some of the damage to egg and sperm cells. Further, zinc can be beneficial to the embryo and potentially prevent pregnancy complications. For that reason, the researchers recommend that couples looking to conceive should each be taking a zinc supplement.
Up to 50 milligrams a day could also be helpful for the general population in enhancing immune health and reducing serious side effects of COVID, should they become sick. Currently, the National Institutes of Health recommend 11 milligrams of zinc per day for men and 8 milligrams per day for women. Despite this relatively low requirement, zinc can still be difficult to obtain through diet alone — while oysters contain by far the most zinc of actual food sources at 74 milligrams per three ounces, most other, more accessible foods contain much less. A three-ounce beef patty, for example, contains 5.3 milligrams, while eight ounces of yogurt contains 1.7 milligrams. People with gastrointestinal issues, vegetarians and those with alcoholism are all at risk for zinc deficiency.
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The report recommends up to 50 milligrams per day, though the NIH recommends capping your dosage at 40 milligrams per day over the long term, as generally, consuming too much zinc will lead to non-life-threatening symptoms like nausea and diarrhea. But considering how it might help prevent severe COVID-19 and potential infertility, it might be worth adding a moderate zinc supplement to your diet. Unless you’re already eating oysters every day, of course.