Recent studies at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found something surprising when they looked at the second-by-second process of fertilization in the eggs of mice and monkeys. Stunning images like the one at right showed that within minutes of sperm meeting egg, the fertilized egg cell released a massive amount of the mineral zinc. When the researchers bathed the eggs in a solution, they could see light flashes they called “zinc sparks” when the mineral was discharged.
Before the dramatic release of the mineral upon fertilization, the scientists observed that the egg, prior to fertilization, steadily gathered up zinc atoms during its development. “These findings suggest zinc is essential for developing a healthy egg and, ultimately, a healthy embryo,” said Teresa Woodruff, Ph.D., one of the article’s senior authors, in a press release issued by the NIH. It may be that zinc acts as a switch that controls cell division during egg maturation, and stops it after fertilization.
Thomas V. O’Halloran, Ph.D., of Northwestern University, and one of the study’s senior authors, added that the findings encourage more research into whether dietary zinc might play a role in fertility. There is some evidence to support zinc supplements as a conception booster: A 2002 study of subfertile and fertile men who were given folic acid and zinc sulfate found that total sperm count increased in both groups when they took the combined supplement.
If you prefer to go the natural route and get your zinc from foods, good dietary sources include oysters, crab, pork shoulder, fortified breakfast cereal, and beef shanks. Women 19 years and older should get 8 milligrams of zinc in food daily; adult men need 11 milligrams a day.
Do you take any kind of fertility supplement?