Prostate Cancer and Zinc – Can Zinc Be Overdone?

By: Byron J. Richards, Board Certified Clinical Nutritionist

Many individuals are confused by the meaning of studies that sometimes show a particular nutrient is associated with some form of cancer when in fact they thought that nutrient was supposed to be helpful.  A case in point is zinc and prostate cancer, which is the subject of this posting. 

Mainstream media, which is supported by Big Pharma advertising dollars, will often take nutrient-related “negative” studies and trumpet them in their headlines, while ignoring important information about how commonly used drugs are injuring and killing hundreds of thousands of individuals every year.  There is extreme media bias as well as health care professional bias against dietary supplements that is part of a distorted reality which interferes with individuals improving their health or staying healthy.

The issue of zinc status is of great importance to any man.  Zinc is highly concentrated in the prostate gland – and it is obviously there for a reason.  For both men and women I call zinc a “survival mineral.”  It is heavily involved with reproductive health and sex hormone transport in both sexes (survival), your sense of balance (lose your balance and you are toast), the normal repair of your DNA from daily wear and tear, sensory function in general, thyroid function, immunity, and a hundred other key enzyme systems require zinc to maintain optimal health.  Even a 10% deficiency in zinc can handicap your immune response – not a good thing with an impending flu pandemic around the corner.

Our government places their daily recommendation for zinc at 15 mg per day.  Supplemental zinc need varies widely from this basic amount up to 75 mg a day in women and up to 100 mg a day in men.  So how do you know how much to take?

This question is complicated when information portrays higher zinc intake as a possible cause of a health problem, like prostate cancer.  This tends to really confuse individuals.

This confusion stems from a 2003 National Cancer Institute (NCI1) study of 46, 974 U.S. men found that supplemental zinc up to 100 mg a day was not associated with prostate cancer risk.  However, taking more than 100 mg a day was associated with a doubling of the risk of advanced prostate cancer.  The researchers noted that an increased duration of supplemental zinc use was unrelated to the risk of total or organ-confined prostate cancer. However, using statistical gymnastics they arrived at the calculation that taking zinc for 10 years or longer doubled the risk for aggressive prostate cancer, and they didn’t mention a dose level for this finding in the final study report.  As a result, the media and its affiliate stooge physicians ran anti-zinc propaganda - a black PR campaign that confuses the public to this very day.  Their objective is to raise fears in consumers about dietary supplements and to try to get men to stop taking extra zinc.  Their bottom-line goal is to eliminate competition.

First, some background.  It is important to understand that published studies in the scientific literature were intended to be an informal discourse amongst physicians and health care professionals.  They were never designed or intended to prevent fraud based on a financial agenda.  For example, the majority of studies supporting the positive spin on most blockbuster drugs are riddled with fraud.  Western medicine allies beholden to the Big Pharma agenda also try to churn out “studies” that are anti-vitamin, common in the U.S., England, and Scandinavia (the sources of almost all anti-vitamin bunk).

In the case of the NCI it was hijacked in 2001 by Andrew von Eschenbach (later to become head of the FDA), a Bush family friend and leader of C-Change – the conglomerate of whose who in the big business cancer treatment world.  He diverted NCI funding from basic cancer research vital to millions of Americans into the pockets of his friends at C Change, setting cancer research back decades.  Instead, we got highly profitable cancer bio-tech drugs that cure absolutely nothing, extend life a few months, bankrupt the individual’s family, and send health insurance costs out the roof.  His role at the FDA was nothing more than making sure these drugs got approved for his friends, while ignoring one food catastrophe and drug debacle after another.  This zinc study was done on his watch, under his agenda.  By the way, von Eschenbach (an oncologist specializing in prostate) has had his own prostate removed due to prostate cancer – and certainly knew he was at risk for prostate cancer since his father had it.  One look at his waistline tells you he didn’t have enough brainpower to be proactively healthy.

Any scientist knows that statistics can be massaged to look any way someone’s agenda would like them to look.  Welcome to the world of “science” for profit.

The NCI study itself is based on data collection, a weak study design in the first place.  The researchers freely admit that their data could readily be skewed because many men likely to take higher zinc were doing so to help their prostate glands that were already in trouble.  In other words, prostate problems already existed and taking zinc didn’t really help, and thus they simply continued on their path towards prostate cancer.  This could readily mean that taking zinc in amounts larger than 100 mg per day was not the cause of anything, simply associated with what men who already had problems were trying to do to help fix themselves.  Additionally, the lack of control for pre-existing prostate problems means that the study is very weak and of very little value.  In fact, it is hardly a study at all.  The journal publishing it lists it as a “Brief Communication.”

As is typical with anti-vitamin studies, the quality of the nutrient being consumed is never taken into account.  Most men would be taking cheap zinc oxide.  Oxides generate free radicals when consumed, further depleting the antioxidant defense system in men who are already struggling with a lack of antioxidants.  The study is more likely to be about oxides possibly contributing to prostate problems when consumed in excess – a form of cheap minerals I constantly tell consumers to avoid. 

The forms of zinc your body actually absorbs are zinc citrate and zinc picolinate.  Any other form of zinc has to be converted into one of these two before it can be assimilated.  The lack of use of high quality nutrients is the common denominator in virtually all anti-vitamin studies published.

Zinc and Prostate Health

Zinc is highly concentrated in the prostate and is typically low in individuals2 with prostate cancer.  Zinc deficiency is a general cancer risk factor that has been established in cell, animal, and human models.  A lack of zinc is associated with DNA damage and chromosome breaks.  Researchers have shown that the level of zinc within cells dramatically influences a cell’s ability to repair DNA damage and recover.

The most recent cell study looking into this issue found that zinc was quite helpful3 at reducing benign prostate hyperplasia (BPH), meaning that it was a needed nutrient to help control initial prostate swelling that could eventually lead to cancer.  The same research showed that zinc does not stop prostate cancer once it starts, similar to other research.

Contrary to the very weak 2003 study, in a 2009 study researchers at the University of Washington4 evaluating the greater than 10 year zinc intake of 35,242 men found a 66% reduction in advanced prostate cancer in men who took more than 15 mgs of zinc per day.  Of course, the media didn’t run this study.

Zinc Need

The problem with zinc need is that it may vary considerably for any one person compared to another.  Zinc is more rapidly depleted when a person is under stress and also through sweat (exercise).  Basic guidelines for adults are15 mg to 40 mg per day, taking higher amounts is a good idea if you are under high stress or exercise a lot.

Ensuring you are zinc adequate during times of public infection, such as a flu spreading5, is very important as zinc is one nutrient that helps keep your immune troops in better working condition.

Slow wound healing, muscle weakness, lack of drive (including sex drive), problems with the sense of taste, hearing, or smell, and/or loss of appetite/weak appetite are some problems often caused by a lack of zinc.  Zinc is needed for proper thyroid function and to maintain normal leptin function (especially to prevent weakness when dieting).  Zinc is involved with reproduction and sperm health.

The classic physical symptom of a lack of zinc is white spots on the fingernails.

The pioneering work of Carl Pfeiffer (1908-1988) demonstrated that some individuals needed much higher levels of zinc to help maintain mental health.  His book, Mental and Elemental Nutrients (1976) is a classic in the field of clinical nutrition.

I have personally found over the years that the combination of zinc and MSM sulfur will take care of those white spots in just about anyone – myself included.  I have averaged between 50 and 75 mgs of zinc per day for the past 20 years – and I don’t have BPH or an elevated PSA (I’m 54).  It is very clear to me that when I exercise more I need more zinc.


The needed dose of zinc will vary from person to person and men have a slightly higher need than women.  A typical amount is 15 mg to 40 mg per day and I would base this on your stress level and how often you sweat.  I would suggest not becoming zinc deficient during the flu season.  Some women may need up to 75 mgs per day and men up to 100 mgs per day – and I don’t suggest taking more than this.

Zinc adequacy is vital for optimal prostate health, especially as you grow older.

Zinc makes some people nauseous (which is normal), so you may need to take it later in the day or be careful if you are already queasy.  This is not an issue for the majority, and zinc is actually a remedy for people with weak or poor appetite.

Zinc is critically associated with important survival systems in your body.

Referenced Studies:
  1. ^ Zinc and Risk of Prostate Cancer  J Natl Cancer Inst.   Leitzmann MF, Stampfer MJ, Wu K, Colditz GA, Willett WC, Giovannucci EL.
  2. ^ Zinc and Prostate Cancer    Emily Ho and Michelle Yan
  3. ^ Zinc and Prostate Cell Study  J Nutr Biochem.   Yan M, Hardin K, Ho E.
  4. ^ Long Term Zinc Intake and Prostate Cancer  Nutr Cancer.   Gonzalez A, Peters U, Lampe JW, White E.
  5. ^ Zinc and Immunity  Journal of Leukocyte Biology.  Tolunay B. Aydemir, Juan P. Liuzzi, Steve McClellan, and Robert J. Cousins.

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