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Zinc Deficiency Poses Critical Risks For Children and Elderly Alike


Zinc deficiency poses critical health risks for children and the elderly alike, according to a new report by Oregon State University, and several other studies completed recently as well. The latest research is especially troubling as it found that DNA damage can occur even if zinc deficiency is minor.

One problem with detecting zinc deficiency, according to the Oregon State University report, is that the available tests are not reliable; another is that many people have never been tested to determine if they indeed are deficient in this critical mineral. Adding to the problem is the fact that scientists do not yet know much about how zinc operates, including how it is absorbed and all the roles it plays in the body.

Experts have been able to determine, however, that zinc’s antioxidant properties protect against oxidative stress, and that it helps with DNA repair. This fact was demonstrated in the results of two recently published studies (Journal of Nutrition and the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition), in which it was shown that low zinc intake was associated with significant damage to DNA both in laboratory animals and in healthy men. Other studies indicate that zinc deficiency may increase the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases.

The results of recent research on zinc deficiency coincide with an announcement by the International Zinc Association’s on September 24 at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting in New York City that it has formed a partnership, the Zinc and Nutrition Initiative, which has as one of its goals to increase the intake of zinc by people who reside in countries where zinc deficiency is most prevalent. In particular, the focus is on zinc supplementation for children, which they believe can help save hundreds of thousands of lives per year.

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In children, zinc is critical for brain development and growth. According to the International Zinc Association, zinc deficiency leads to the deaths of 450,000 children per year and contributes to 800,000 deaths overall. An estimated two billion people around the world have a zinc deficiency. In the United States, about 12 percent of the general population is believed to be zinc deficient.

Among the elderly in the United States, however, that figure increases to about 40 percent. According to Emily Ho, an associate professor with the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University and an expert on dietary zinc, inadequate intake of the mineral is so common among the elderly that they should consider taking a supplement.

According to the National Institutes of Health, the recommended daily allowance of zinc is 8 milligrams (mg) for women and 11 mg for men. Among children it ranges from 2 mg for infants up to 6 months of age, gradually increasing to 8 mg for children ages 9 to 13 and 11 mg for ages 14 to 18. While zinc deficiency poses many health hazards, an excess of zinc can interfere with absorption of other nutrients, including iron and copper. Therefore, individuals, especially the elderly, should consult a knowledgeable healthcare provider before undertaking zinc supplementation.

International Zinc Association news release, Sept. 24, 2009
Oregon State University news release, September 17, 2009
Song Y et al. Journal of Nutrition 20009 Sep; 139(9): 1626-31
Song Y et al. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2009 Aug; 90(2): 321-28

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