Zinc and Infant Mortality

Zinc is a micronutrient that belongs to a group called trace elements. In an adult human, the total zinc is approximately about 0.003 % of the total body weight. Ninety percent of the total zinc is incorporated in muscle and bone. The remaining 10% of zinc is metabolically very active. The liver plays a central role in zinc metabolism.

Dr. Sunil Sazawal, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in Baltimore, presented a study involving 1,250 babies in India weighing between 2 and 5 pounds, this week at a meeting of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. The babies were divided into four groups. One group was given a daily dose of syrup containing 5 milligrams of zinc, the second group was given zinc plus vitamins and minerals, the third group was given vitamins and minerals without any zinc, and the fourth group was given a placebo. The babies that got zinc showed one-third reduction in infant mortality. This may be because of zinc's ability to boost immune function.

It was found that zinc reduced the prevalence of diarrhea by 25 percent and pneumonia by 41 percent in another study in which researchers pooled data from 17 studies involving 4,000 children. It was concluded that babies less than one year old should get 5 milligrams of zinc everyday and older children should get 10 mg of zinc per day. All the needed zinc may be obtained from a diet containing fortified cereals, whole grains, beans, dairy products etc. (Other moderate food sources are seafood and meat (beef, liver, turkey and dark meat of chicken)). In addition, zinc supplement may be given to babies with low birth weight.

Zinc deficiency symptoms include changes in taste and smell or a loss of appetite and retarded sexual maturation. An adult male's (25+ years of age) Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for zinc is 15-18 mg per day. It would not be wise to take excess zinc as it suppresses copper and calcium absorption. For more on zinc nutrition visit:

Sreenivasarao Vepachedu, 4/28/99

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