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Zinc Deficiency and Infertility-- What You Need to Know

What role does zinc play in egg quality?

April 3, 2019
Bridget Houlihan

In a study done by researchers at Penn State University, zinc deficiency has been found to impact the development of egg cells. It is important for couples struggling with infertility to be aware of this-- if the egg cell cannot properly develop, then it cannot divide and prepare for fertilization. A zinc deficiency plays an even larger role in cell meiosis than previously thought-- and can lead to infertility in some women.

In this article we’ll examine:

  • Why is zinc important?
  • What happens when there is a deficiency?

Make sure you discuss with your zinc levels with your doctor.

Why is zinc so important?

Women are born with a certain number of egg cells (oocytes) which are surrounded by support cells (somatic), which after puberty start to prepare eggs for fertilization. The ability for these cells to do their job properly depends on a variety of factors-- one of which is the presence, or lack thereof-- of certain nutrients like zinc in the body. Physicians know that zinc is an important part of fertility and the ability to carry a child to term. Zinc helps the female reproductive system function properly-- and it is essential to egg production, follicular fluid levels, and hormone regulation. Without it, the process can be stalled or stopped-- causing infertility.

For ovulation to occur, the antral follicles of the ovary must receive hormonal stimulation from the brain. Instead of focusing on these follicles like previous studies, the Penn State study decided to concentrate on the smaller preantral follicles-- which are required to grow for about 90 days before ovulation is possible.

pregnant woman
A lack of zinc can have some very serious affect whether or not egg cells can divide.

What happens when there is a zinc deficiency?

The Penn State study compared the preantral follicles of mice with normal levels of zinc-- as well as those that were zinc deficient. They found that the preantral follicles that grew in a zinc deficient environment caused problems with somatic cells, disrupted the growth of the egg cells, lead to smaller egg cells, and compromised the cell’s ability to divide. The last observation was particularly important-- if egg cells cannot divide properly, they cannot prepare for fertilization.

This study showed that zinc levels are important far earlier in egg cell growth than previously thought. Other studies proved that zinc levels were imperative for antral follicles-- but no team had yet researched the lack of zinc of preantral follicles. The researchers also noted that, even if they introduced zinc to the zinc-deficient mice cells, the division was still impaired and the damage had already been done. It is important to note that the egg cells collected for IVF are from the antral follicles-- so if there was a zinc deficiency during preantral development the effects would already be present.

While there are many reasons for infertility, a lack of zinc and other nutrients are known to adversely affect fertility. Couples trying to conceive should talk to their doctors to make sure zinc levels are where should be.


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