ZMA is a blend of vitamins and minerals that is used by many men to increase strength, boost testosterone levels, and assist sleep. It is made up of zinc, magnesium and vitamin B6, all of which are essential nutrients required for the body to function correctly. In spite of its necessity, ZMA is not without side effects.
ZMA Side Effects Men
Men use ZMA to boost testosterone levels. Zinc is a mineral that can easily become depleted through extensive training, and research has shown that even marginal decreases in zinc levels below normal can lead to drops in the levels of testosterone (1). There has also been a small amount of research suggesting that magnesium supplementation can increase testosterone levels (2). This means that it is theoretically possible for a zinc-deficient man to experience an increase in testosterone levels as a result of supplementation with ZMA.
Increased testosterone is something that can come with side effects that may include increased growth of body hair, enhanced libido, an increase in aggression and acne, along with the effects that this supplement is generally used to invoke, like an increase in strength, muscle growth, mood and focus. The effect of ZMA on testosterone levels, therefore the extent of any side effects, varies considerably between people, and it is probable that most men using ZMA will not experience any of these effects.
ZMA Side Effects Hair Loss
Most men are very concerned about hair loss. Male pattern baldness is generally a result of genetics, but a predisposition toward hair loss can, in some cases, be exacerbated by hormone levels.
The hormone responsible is called DHT, or dihydrotestosterone. DHT is a potent derivative of testosterone that is produced within the body. It is possible that a large increase in testosterone levels could result in higher levels of DHT and increased hair loss in susceptible people, but this is unlikely. Zinc deficiency is also known to be a cause of baldness, and it is possible that someone with a zinc deficiency that affects testosterone levels may also be suffering from hair loss.
ZMA Side Effects Anger
Anger is another side effect that is often attributed to ZMA. It is known that increases in testosterone levels can cause mood changes, including increases in anger. As with hair loss, it is possible for someone with a zinc-related testosterone deficiency to experience increases in testosterone-related side effects as a result of ZMA supplementation, although this would be rare.
ZMA Side Effects Acne
There is no definitive answer as to the effect of ZMA of Acne. As stated previously, an increase in testosterone levels may lead to an increase in acne, however, this is unlikely for most people. On the other hand, all three ingredients, Magnesium, B6, and particularly Zinc have all, at times, been implicated in the treatment of Acne (3). Acne is a condition with a wide variety of causes and cures, and what works for one person may have a completely different effect on another. People with acne-prone skin should be aware that ZMA supplementation may have an effect on their condition, and cross their fingers that they are one of the lucky ones who experience a benefit!
ZMA Side Effects Dreams
The most common and best-known side effect of ZMA is its ability to cause vivid and memorable dreams. This is thought to be due to the effects of vitamin B6 on the conversion of amino acid tryptophan to neurotransmitter serotonin. The fact that ZMA is generally taken before bed is also largely responsible. Studies have shown that this side effect is most marked in the first few days of supplementation, and is more pronounced at higher doses (4).
For a lot of people this is an interesting novelty, but other people experience vivid nightmares which have caused them to discontinue ZMA supplementation. In many people, this side effect fades with time, but if it is ongoing and of concern, dosing ZMA in the morning, or using seperate Zinc and Magnesium supplements in place of ZMA can resolve this problem while retaining most of the benefits.
Zinc, Magnesium and B6 are all essential nutrients for the body, and as expected, a supplement containing these vitamins and minerals is very safe, and has a low likelihood of serious side effects. Anybody with concerns relating to ZMA is strongly encouraged to consult their doctor before using this supplement.
(1) Prasad AS, Mantzoros CS, Beck FW, Hess JW, Brewer GJ. Zinc status and serum testosterone levels of healthy adults. Nutrition.1996 May;12(5):344-8.
(2) Cinar V, Polat Y, Baltaci AK, et al. Effects of magnesium supplementation on testosterone levels of athletes and sedentary subjects at rest and after exhaustion. Biol Trace Elem Res. 2011;140:18–23.
(3) Brandt S. The clinical effects of zinc as a topical or oral agent on the clinical response and pathophysiologic mechanisms of acne: a systematic review of the literature. J Drugs Dermatol. 2013 May;12(5):542-5.
(4) Ebben M, Lequerica A, Spielman A. Effects of pyridoxine on dreaming: a preliminary study. Percept Mot Skills. 2002 Feb;94(1):135-40.