Researchers at Pennsylvania State University, in America, have discovered zinc deficiency could have a negative impact on early egg development – affecting fertility
Lead researcher James Hester said the study, which was carried out using mice oocytes, is the first step in understanding the complicated process of oocyte growth prior to ovulation.
He said: “While this is a novel time point to investigate, our results really underscore what we already know: women who want to get pregnant should eat a healthy balanced diet and take a prenatal vitamin. (For that matter, everyone should probably eat better and take their vitamins).”
The researchers collected preantral follicles from mice and matured them in a cell culture dish. They compared eggs matured in a zinc deficient environment to those grown with normal levels of zinc.
James said zinc plays a huge role in fertility
“In previous studies from our lab, dietary zinc deficiency leads to fewer ovulations, reduced fertilisation, and problems in embryo development. Our lab and other researchers have shown that as eggs are ovulated they take in a huge amount of zinc from their environment, and this rise in zinc is necessary for meiotic division to produce the correct number of chromosomes.”
He also said zinc during pregnancy is key, as zinc deficient pregnancies are more likely to result in premature birth and lower birth weight in humans. On the male side, zinc deficiency has been shown to lower the rate of the development of mature sperm.
He said: “The World Health Organisation estimates that 17 per cent of the world’s population may face zinc deficiency. Primarily, this includes people in developing parts of the world who face overall nutrient deficiency. There are subpopulations of people in the developed world who are also at risk of zinc deficiency. GI disorders like IBS or Crohn’s disease can interfere with zinc absorption, as well as certain diet or lifestyle choices such as vegetarianism and veganism.”
So how can we ensure we get enough zinc?
James said zinc deficiency can be prevented both through diet
and supplementation. Zinc is primarily found in foods from animal sources – particularly shellfish and red meat. Vegetable sources include legumes like chickpeas and lima beans. For women trying to conceive, zinc can be found in the proper amounts in most prenatal vitamins
. These vitamins contain other micro-nutrients which are key before and during ovulation, such as folate which is required at many of the same early developmental stages as zinc.
Researchers suggest the current results imply zinc could play a key role several months before ovulation
James said: “We haven’t tested whether these results translate to human beings or not. And a woman’s personal diet and metabolism will have a huge impact on her zinc status. It’s probably not a bad idea to take a prenatal vitamin in the months leading up trying to conceive – but that’s something women should discuss with their OBGYNs.
“It’s also important to know that excessive zinc intake can interfere with the absorption and metabolism of other nutrients like copper and lead to severe health issues. So overloading on zinc supplements is not a good idea. Another reason to always follow the advice of your personal physician.”