immune system health
- skin, hair and nail strength
- brain processing for taste, smell and appetite
- activating growth and cell division in infants, children and teenagers
Worldwide, zinc deficiency is usually found among lower income populations and in many developing countries, where a normal diet is generally plant-based (lower zinc content). Global estimates of zinc deficiency by the World Health Organization are around 17% of the population, but figures can reach up to 25% and 29% for Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia respectively. Zinc deficiency symptoms include slowed growth, low insulin levels, loss of appetite, irritability, generalized hair loss, rough and dry skin, slow wound healing, poor sense of taste and smell, diarrhea, and nausea. Zinc supplementation is one of strategies used by public health officials to combat zinc deficiency and its consequences in children.
A recent study published in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine takes a closer look at the relationship between zinc deficiency and infant growth. The goal of the study was to examine how zinc supplementation affects the linear growth of children 6-24 months of age and the feasibility of its implementation in the context of primary health care system.
According to the study:
Rural community health centers providing maternal and child care in two areas with moderate rates of malnutrition were randomly assigned to intervention and control groups, including 393 and 445 children 6-24 months of age, respectively. Children in both groups received routine iron and multivitamin or vitamin A and D supplements through PHC services. Mothers of children in the intervention group were asked to give a single dose of 5 ml/day zinc sulfate syrup (containing 5 mg elemental zinc) to their children for 3 months while children in the control group did not receive the supplement.The study’s authors found a 0.5 cm difference in height in the group that received the supplement as compared with the control group. Zinc supplementation had no effect on either group’s weight.
The study concluded that oral zinc supplementation provided by primary health care workers was effective in increasing the linear growth rate of children less than 2 years of age.
The European Food Safety Authority has also concluded that there is scientific evidence to support health claims regarding the dietary intake of zinc, normal immune function, and normal DNA synthesis and cell division. Accordingly, zinc supplements have become an important part of immune system protection during the winter months in addition to supporting children’s growth.
This research demonstrates how vital trace elements like zinc are to proper growth and development for all children. Most kids who eat a balanced diet usually get enough of this mineral but parents of picky eaters should pay particular attention to zinc intake. Zinc deficiency can have serious consequences and all parents and doctors should be aware of them.