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Zinc Supplementation in Young Children May Reduce Their Risk of Illness

PreschoolA new Cochrane Review suggests that zinc supplementation might reduce the overall risk of death in children 6 months to 12 years-old.

Zinc is a trace mineral that is needed for many important functions in the body. Deficiency may cause problems with growth, diarrhea, and immune function. Mild zinc deficiency may be overlooked, since symptoms are not always obvious and may include loss of hair, appetite, weight, and the senses of taste and smell. Severe zinc deficiency contributes to numerous child deaths per year due to diarrhea, pneumonia, and malaria.

In a newly published Cochrane Review, researchers conducted a comprehensive literature search for data on the effects of zinc in children 6 months to 12 years-old. Eighty well-designed clinical trials with a total of 205,401 participants were ultimately identified for inclusion.

The Cochrane review found that giving children zinc supplement might reduce their risk of death in general, particularly their risk of death due to diarrhea. Children given zinc experience less diarrhea than children not given zinc. The review noted that zinc supplements may be associated with increased risk of vomiting.

The author concluded that the benefits of preventive zinc supplementation outweigh the harms in areas where the risk of zinc deficiency is relatively high. Further research should determine optimal intervention characteristics such as supplement dose.

Mayo-Wilson et al. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014 May 15;5:CD009384. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD009384.pub2

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