Zinc Benefits Children with Diarrhea

Zinc supplementation is shown to effectively lessen the severity and duration of diarrhea in children age six months to five years, according to a recent Cochrane review. “Zinc is clearly of benefit to children with diarrhea,” according to lead researcher Marzia Lazzerini, who works at the Unit of Research on Health Services and International Health in Trieste, Italy.

The study supports the guidelines already in existence from the World Health Organization. Lazzerini says, “These studies back up previous research that shows zinc can play an important role in restoring children with diarrhea to full health.” The World Health Organization currently recommends treating children with diarrhea for 10 to 14 days with oral zinc and salt rehydration solution.

The information is of importance to parents. Zinc is essential for physical development in children, and plays an important role in immunity and proper function of the gastrointestinal tract. Of note, the current study found that zinc is not effective to treat diarrhea in children less than 6 months of age though guidelines can be found from the World Health Organization for zinc supplementation of infants. Researchers for the current review drew their conclusions from 18 trials involving 6,165 people from Asia, South America and Africa.

No conclusions could be drawn about whether zinc supplementation reduces the number of hospitalizations or death, but it would seem likely that the practice could save the lives of children and prevent hospitalization when combined with oral salt rehydration.

Symptoms of dehydration include:
• sunken eyes
• absence of tears
• dry mouth and tongue
• excessive thirst
• the skin pinch goes back slowly

Severe dehydration produces lethargy and decreased level of consciousness. Parents of young children should keep oral rehydration solution on hand especially for diarrheal outbreaks.

Children with diarrhea should be seen by a physician and tested for infection. In addition to providing hydration, antibiotics may be needed, and it’s important to recognize when hospital care is needed. According to World Health estimates, 2.2 million children die as the result of diarrhea in the developing world every year.


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Source: Lazzerini M, Ronfani L. Oral zinc for treating diarrhoea in children. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2008, Issue 3. Art. No.: CD005436. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD005436.pub2. Cochrane Infectious Diseases Group.