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Zinc Found to Help Digestive Health in Children

By Greg Arnold, DC, CSCS, April 30, 2010, abstracted from “Zinc Influences Innate Immune Responses in Children with Enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli-Induced Diarrhea” in the May 2010 issue of the Journal of Nutrition

The World Health Organization estimates there are 1.5 billion episodes of diarrhea in children younger than 5 years of age in the developing world, accounting for 3 million deaths.  Enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli (ETEC) is the most frequently isolated enteropathogen, accounting for approximately 210 million diarrhea episodes and approximately 380, 000 deaths annually (1).

When it comes to ways to help prevent ETEC infections for the entire population, arguments have been made for an ETEC vaccine that would have the potential to cost as little as $17 per dose (2).  Past research has shown that zinc reduces the risk of diarrhea by 23% and also reduces the risk of severe diarrhea by 37% in children after zinc supplementation (3).  These results have resulted in recommendations by the World Health Organization of 20 mg of zinc per day for 10–14 days for children with diarrhea (4).

Now a new study (5) has suggested just how zinc is able to maintain digestive health in children.  In the study, 148 children aged 6 months to 24 months with diarrhea (defined as having 3 loose watery stools in the past 24 hours) due to ETEC were given a zinc “treatment” which was 20 mg of zinc from zinc sulfate per day for 10 days.  The children were then divided into 2 groups and given either 10 mg per day of zinc from zinc sulfate or a placebo for 3 months.  These 2 groups were then compared to a group of 50 children with ETEC not given zinc. Blood samples were acquired from all 3 groups:

Group A: 74 children on 10-day zinc treatment plus 3-month zinc supplementation
Group B: 74 children on 10-day zinc treatment with placebo for three months
Group C: 50 children with ETEC and no 10-day treatment or supplementation.

The blood samples were taken at 0, 2, 15, 45, 90, and 180 days after the start of the study.

The researchers found that those in Group A (10-day zinc treatment plus supplementation) produced rates of elimination the ETEC bacteria by white blood cells (a process called “phagocytosis”) 163% higher those in Group C while Group B had ETEC elimination rates 88% higher than Group C.  Group A also had a 24% increase in 15 days of a cell called “Complement C3” (6), compared to an 8% decrease in Group B and no change in Group C, showing the zinc supplementation to significantly increase immune system strength during the first 2 weeks of infection.

For the researchers, “zinc administration enhances innate immunity against ETEC infection in children” and ”Further studies are needed with a larger cohort of children to determine whether the effects of zinc on the immunological factors have a role in decreasing future episodes of ETEC diarrhea or diarrhea as a whole.”

Greg Arnold is a Chiropractic Physician practicing in Danville, CA.  You can contact Dr. Arnold directly by emailing him at PitchingDoc@msn.com or visiting his web site at www.PitchingDoc.com

1. “ETEC” - www.who.int/vaccine_research/diseases/e_e_coli/en/
2. “Vaccination Against Enterotoxigenic Escherichia Coli: The Case for an ETEC Vaccine”
3. Bhutta ZA.  Therapeutic effects of oral zinc in acute and persistent diarrhea in children in developing countries: pooled analysis of randomized controlled trials. Am J Clin Nutr. 2000;72:1516–22
4. WHO. Implementing the new recommendations on the clinical management of diarrhoea. Guidelines for policy makers and programme managers. 2005. Available from: http://www.who.int/child_adolescent_health/documents/9241594217/
5. Sheikh A.  Zinc Influences Innate Immune Responses in Children with Enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli-Induced Diarrhea.  J. Nutr. 2010 140: 1049-1056. First published online May 1, 2010; doi:10.3945/jn.109.111492
6. “Complement C3” - www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003539.htm