Zinc Speeds Respiratory Infection Recovery in Boys
Young boys with severe acute lower respiratory infections (ALRI) may
recover more quickly when given extra zinc, according to a study in the
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2004;79:430-6). Vitamin A was also
studied but was not shown to be effective for ALRI. Healthnotes Newswire
(July 29, 2004)
Zinc, an essential mineral needed for proper growth, immune function, wound
healing, and metabolism, is found in large amounts in meat, eggs, and
shellfish. Zinc decreases the severity and duration of diarrhea and
prevents pneumonia in children in developing countries, where zinc
deficiency is common.
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that enhances immune function. It plays
an important role in the normal functioning of the lungs, skin, intestines,
and eyes. Food sources of vitamin A include liver and dairy products.
Vitamin A supplementation decreases childhood mortality in developing
countries; however, results of studies using vitamin A to treat pneumonia
and ALRI are conflicting.
The new study evaluated the effect of zinc and high-dose vitamin A
supplementation on recovery rates in children suffering from ALRI in India.
One hundred fifty-three hospitalized children aged 2 to 24 months with
severe ALRI were enrolled in the study and observed for five days. The
children were randomly assigned to receive either (1) 10 mg zinc acetate
two times per day for five days plus a placebo for vitamin A, (2) 33,300 IU
vitamin A (as retinyl palmitate) two times per day for four days plus a
placebo for zinc, (3) zinc and vitamin A, or (4) placebo for zinc and
vitamin A. All children also received standard medical treatment for their
condition, including antibiotics, medications to ease breathing
(bronchodilators), and oxygen. Doctors measured the time for very ill
status and fever to resolve, and noted the presence of abnormally rapid
breathing and difficulty feeding.
Boys who received the zinc supplement recovered from very ill status 2.6
times faster and from fever 3.1 times faster than children not taking zinc.
Similar trends were seen for rapid breathing resolution and feeding
difficulty among boys taking zinc. Zinc supplementation had no significant
effect in girls. Vitamin A supplementation provided no significant benefit
for children with ARLI. In fact, more diarrhea was noted among those
children taking vitamin A. Children taking vitamin A also needed more
changes in antibiotic prescriptions due to lack of responsiveness or
worsening of their condition.
It is not clear from this study why boys but not girls seem to benefit from
supplementing with zinc.
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