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Paediatr Int Child Health. 2014 Nov;34(4):279-88. doi: 10.1179/2046905514Y.0000000151. Epub 2014 Sep 9.

Zinc deficiency in infants and children: a review of its complex and synergistic interactions.


Zinc deficiency is estimated to contribute to over half a million deaths per year in infants and children under 5 years of age. This paper reviews the features of mild-to-moderate zinc deficiency, which include growth faltering, deficits in immune function and altered integrity and function of the gastro-intestinal tract. Sub-clinical features include oxidative stress and a pro-inflammatory state. The homeostatic response to low dietary zinc intake by increasing absorption is limited, especially if the source of zinc is of poor bioavailability, and conservation of endogenous intestinal losses is a critical component of adaptation. Owing to low zinc intakes, older breastfed infants, especially those of low birthweight, are predictably at risk of zinc deficiency if complementary food choices are unfortified and/or low in zinc. Host factors such as young age, poor intra-uterine zinc accretion owing to poor maternal status and/or prematurity, and gastro-intestinal dysfunction also potently predispose to zinc deficiency. Environmental enteropathy, which is prevalent in low-resource settings, may substantially impair zinc absorption and/or increase endogenous losses, and thus lead to relatively high zinc requirements. Emerging evidence highlights common features between chronic inflammation and zinc deficiency, and each may exacerbate the other. More investigations of zinc homeostasis in populations in low-resource settings are needed to better quantify absorption capacity and losses. Effective preventive strategies must address potentially higher zinc requirements as well as the underlying context that perpetuates a vicious cycle of zinc deficiency and multiple adverse outcomes.


Absorption,; Breastfed infants; Endogenous zinc losses,; Environmental enteropathy,; Zinc deficiency,

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