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Ann Nutr Metab. 2013;62 Suppl 1:31-42. doi: 10.1159/000348263. Epub 2013 May 3.

Zinc supplementation in public health.

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Instituto de Investigación Nutricional, Lima, Peru.


Zinc is necessary for physiological processes including defense against infections. Zinc deficiency is responsible for 4% of global child morbidity and mortality. Zinc supplements given for 10-14 days together with low-osmolarity oral rehydration solution (Lo-ORS) are recommended for the treatment of childhood diarrhea. In children aged ≥ 6 months, daily zinc supplements reduce the duration of acute diarrhea episodes by 12 h and persistent diarrhea by 17 h. Zinc supplements could reduce diarrhea mortality in children aged 12-59 months by an estimated 23%; they are very safe but are associated with an increase in vomiting especially with the first dose. Heterogeneity between the results of trials is not understood but may be related to dose and the etiology of the diarrhea infection. Integration of zinc and Lo-ORS into national programs is underway but slowly, procurement problems are being overcome and the greatest challenge is changing health provider and caregiver attitudes to diarrhea management. Fewer trials have been conducted of zinc adjunct therapy in severe respiratory tract infections and there is as yet insufficient evidence to recommend addition of zinc to antibiotic therapy. Daily zinc supplements for all children >12 months of age in zinc deficient populations are estimated to reduce diarrhea incidence by 11-23%. The greatest impact is in reducing multiple episodes of diarrhea. The effect on duration of diarrheal episodes is less clear, but there may be up to 9% reduction. Zinc is also efficacious in reducing dysentery and persistent diarrhea. Zinc supplements may also prevent pneumonia by about 19%, but heterogeneity across studies has not yet been explained. When analyses are restricted to better quality studies using CHERG (Child Health Epidemiology Reference Group) methodology, zinc supplements are estimated to reduce diarrheal deaths by 13% and pneumonia deaths by 20%. National-level programs to combat childhood zinc deficiency should be accelerated.

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