GLOBAL VALUE OF ZINC SUPPLEMENTS
by Carol Milano
Every year, pneumonia and diarrhea kill children in developing
countries and poor communities. Could a simple dietary supplement
save millions of lives? Knowing zinc's importance in the immune
system, Robert Black, M.D., M.P.H. and Sunil Sazawal, M.P.H.,
Ph.D., of Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, set out to examine
relationships among zinc, immune deficiency and infectious disease.
Working closely with the World Health Organization, the researchers
meta-analyzed original data from seven continuous trials that
provided 1 to 2 RDA of zinc, and three two-week trials which
administered 2 to 4 RDA. The Zinc Investigators' Collaborative
Group found that oral zinc supplementation reduces the incidence
of pneumonia by 41% and of diarrhea by up to 25% in young children.
They learned that for pneumonia, zinc has unsurpassed preventive
effect; for diarrhea, it compares favorably with clean water,
sanitation measures and breastfeeding. Trial length was not significant.
"Zinc intake must be relatively consistent," notes
Dr. Black, a researcher in the Peruvian, Guatemalan, and Indian
studies. Through diet or supplements, children need 5 mgs per
day during their first year; preschoolers require 10 mgs per
day, he stresses.
Dietary surveys show that American and European children in
all income levels commonly consume too little zinc. Adults need
15 mg daily. Zinc supplements are recommended for pregnant women,
diabetics, heart patients on low-fat or meat- restricted diets,
and senior citizens who may have shifted to softer foods less
likely to contain this important mineral.
The best natural sources of zinc are animal products, especially
meat. For vegetarians or lower-income families buying little
meat, zinc supplements will be very helpful. A three-month trial
with zinc-fortified bread reduced diarrhea, respiratory illness
and skin infections by 56% among Turkish schoolchildren. Many
American cereals and baby foods are zinc-fortified.
"To me, it makes sense that zinc supplmentation would
have added value for not only the two conditions cited, but also
a variety of other ailments. An essential nutrient, needed for
well over 200 enzymatic reactions in the body, zinc can be considered
a key for immune activity, insulin regulation, endocrine function,
wound healing, and other functions," observes James B. LaValle,
R.Ph, at University of Cincinnati College of Pharmacy.
The study was published in the Journal of Pediatrics (December,
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