Zinc is an essential trace mineral for humans, which promotes biochemical reactions in the body involving the synthesis and degradation of carbohydrates, proteins and nucleic acids.
It also helps in growth and bone development, prevents diseases and infections, maintains the sense of taste and smell, and also supports normal growth and development during pregnancy, childhood and adolescence.
Zinc is most abundant in protein-rich foods, particularly animal products, such as shellfish, especially oysters, and in meats, poultry, and liver. These contain highest concentration of readily absorbable form, while lesser amount of zinc is found in eggs and dairy products.
Nuts, seeds, legumes, cereals and whole-grain products are relatively high in zinc, however, these foods contain high level of phytate which inhibits zinc absorption.
Inadequate dietary intake of food rich in zinc is likely to be the primary cause of zinc deficiency in most situations.
Increased losses of zinc over time may result in growth retardation, sexual maturation delay and susceptibility to infections like diarrhea, respiratory disorders as well as malaria.
Zinc deficiency also results to hair loss, diarrhea, impotence, eye and skin lesions and loss of appetite.
Weight loss, delayed healing of wounds, taste abnormalities and mental lethargy can also occur if one is zinc deficient.
These symptoms are general and are associated with other medical conditions.
On the other hand, high doses of zinc may cause vomiting, diarrhea, headaches and exhaustion.
The Food and Nutrition Research Institute of the Department of Science and Technology (or FNRI-DOST) determined serum zinc levels and the prevalence of deficiencies among 6 month to five-year-old children, 13 to 19-year-old female adolescents, pregnant women and 60-year-old and over elderly persons from households of the 7th National Nutrition Survey (NNS).
Zinc deficiency were noted in two out of ten (or 21.6 percent) six month to five year-old children, two out of ten (or 20.6 percent) adolescent females and two out of ten (or 21.5 percent) pregnant women. Among three out of ten (or 28.4 percent) elderly persons were also zinc deficient. With these rates, zinc deficiency has been considered as a public health concern.
In developing countries, zinc deficiency ranks 5th among the leading 10 risk factors. The World Health Organization (or WHO) attributes 800,000 deaths worldwide each year to zinc deficiency and over 28 million healthy life years lost.
World wide zinc deficiency is responsible for approximately 16 percent of lower respiratory tract infections, 18 percent malaria and 10 percent diarrheal disease.
According to WHO, zinc deficiency in children less than five years old increases the risk of incidence of diarrheal disease by 1.28 percent and is estimated to cause 176,000 deaths.
Zinc supplementation with reformulated ORS is now recommended by the Department of Health (or DOH) to shorten the duration, lessen the episodes and prevent immediate recurrence of diarrhea.
Zinc is used in the management of diarrhea, in addition to the newly-formulated oral rehydration salt or solution also known as ORS or Oresol.
Supplementation is the most effective and beneficial nutrition intervention to immediately correct any zinc deficiency and prevent its adverse consequences.
Zinc supplement is available in tablets, drops and syrups.
Daily requirement for zinc depends on age, gender and physiologic condition based on the Recommended Energy and Nutrient Intakes (RENI) of the FNRI-DOST.
Children have especially increased zinc needs because they are growing rapidly and synthesizing many zinc-containing proteins.
Eating a balanced diet, as recommended by the nutritional guide pyramid, is an assurance of having the daily requirement of zinc. Jund Rian A. Doringo, FNRI-DOST