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Zinc supplementation, disease prevention, and immunity research

Zinc supplementation boosts immune system in children, notes new research, "Zinc supplementation for preventing mortality, morbidity, and growth failure in children aged 6 months to 12 years of age," published online in the May 2014 issue of the Cochrane Review in The Cochrane Library.

Zinc deficiency is prevalent in low- and middle-income countries, and contributes to significant diarrhea, pneumonia, and malaria-related morbidity and mortality among young children. Zinc deficiency also impairs growth. In fact, zinc supplements reduce diarrhea and other infections in malnourished children, and may prevent death, according to a new study published in . The study is the first Cochrane systematic review to focus on zinc as a means to prevent childhood death, including deaths caused by diarrhea, one of the biggest killers of under-fives.

Zinc is a micronutrient with important roles in growth and in the immune, nervous and reproductive systems

The human body cannot make it, so it has to come from our diet. It is estimated that more than 1 in 6 people globally are deficient in zinc and that around 1 in every 58 deaths in children under five is related to zinc deficiency. Zinc deficiency is common in Southeast Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Latin America.

The authors were interested in whether zinc supplements could reduce childhood death and disease, and help support growth. They reviewed data from 80 trials involving 205,401 children aged six months to twelve years, mostly in low and middle income countries. Overall, they concluded that zinc supplementation could benefit children as part of wider programs to address public health and nutrition challenges in these countries.

"We should remember that supplements are not a substitute for a well-balanced diet," said senior researcher Professor Zulfiqar Bhutta, according to the May 14, 2014 news release, "Zinc supplementation boosts immune system in children, Cochrane Review finds." Bhutta is from the Center of Excellence in Women and Child Health, Aga Khan University, Karachi, Pakistan, and Sick Kids Center for Global Child Health, Toronto, Canada. "However, in countries where zinc deficiency is common, supplements may help to reduce child deaths and related diseases in the short-term."

Those children who took zinc were less likely to suffer a bout of diarrhea, and when the researchers looked at growth differences, they saw that children who were given zinc were slightly taller by the end of the trials compared to those who did not. However, healthy eating is more important for growth. "Eating foods with balanced energy and protein and multiple micronutrients would probably have a larger effect for many malnourished children," said Evan Mayo-Wilson, the lead author based at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland.

Although zinc supplements were associated with an increase in vomiting, the researchers think that overall the benefits of giving zinc outweigh the harms

You may wish to check out the article, "Why do I feel nauseous whenever I take Zinc?" Or see the Dr. Weil site, "Zinc, Minerals, Supplements." Dr David Tovey, Editor-in-Chief, Cochrane, said, "Policymakers in low and middle income countries need evidence that directly addresses the needs of their own health services. This comprehensive review makes a very valuable contribution to the evidence base around interventions may make an important contribution to improving Global Health."

It has been said that when taking zinc supplements if you don't take them on an empty stomach, they generally won't cause vomiting. Just don't take too much, say some nutrition-oriented people, but for an expert opinion, you need to ask a member of your healthcare team whether it's right for the individual and how much, if so. For more information, read the review in The Cochrane Library. Too much zinc draws out the copper from your body. And you don't want an imbalance of your ratio of copper to zinc. You also may wish to see, "Zinc for the common cold." Or check out, "Oral zinc for treating diarrhoea in children."

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