12 January - 20 June 2016

Zinc supplementation and malnutrition in children

21 May 14

A recent research review concluded that zinc supplementation may prevent mortality, boost the immune system and encourage growth in malnourished children. A review published by The Cochrane Library assessed data on malnourished children living in low and middle income countries. Zinc is an essential micronutrient and mineral needed in the diets of humans. The body cannot produce it and does not have the capacity for storing and releasing it. Sources of zinc include oysters, lobsters, red meat and also plant foods grown in Zn-rich soil. In foods such as cereals, grains and legumes, which have low concentrations of Zn, the high concentrations of fibre and phytate bind the Zn and reduce its bioavailability. It is estimated that 1 in 6 people globally are zinc deficient, with the deficiency being particularly prevalent in Southeast Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Latin America. Children are particularly susceptible due to their increased periods of rapid growth, and it has been estimated that the deaths of 116,000 children five years of age in 2011 were attributable to zinc deficiency (1.7% mortality in this group). Severe zinc deficiency affects the following systems: immune, gastrointestinal, skeletal, reproductive and central nervous system. Poorer families are at greater risk, as their diets tend to include more cereals, grains and legumes instead of foods from animal sources - which are rich in zinc, but expensive.

The research review found an overall trend that zinc supplementation had a positive effect on reducing lower respiratory tract infections, diarrhoea and malaria, which led to reduced mortality and increased growth in stunted children. It was noted that supplementation may also be associated with increased vomiting, possibly due to the form of the supplement used (zinc sulphate). Nonetheless, it was concluded that the benefits of zinc supplementation far outweighed the harm. Zinc supplementation is cheap and simple to implement, with various forms accessible for ingestion including liquid solutions, syrups, pills, tablets, capsules, powders and pastes. The chemical forms used are either zinc sulphate or acetate, with the water soluble compounds preferred because they are easier to absorb by the body. It is, however, cautioned that zinc supplementation should not be seen as a long term solution to the nutrition and health challenges facing malnourished children and communities. [TheInformationDaily, Eurekalert]

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