Impact of deficiency
Zinc deficiency in malnourished children contributes to growth failure and susceptibility to infections. Zinc deficiency is also thought to be associated with complications of childbirth.
Who is affected
Data on the prevalence of zinc deficiency are unavailable, as there is no reliable method of determining zinc status at the population level. Zinc deficiency is likely to be a public health problem, however, in areas where overall malnutrition is prevalent; it is now recognized as such in many countries.
What zinc does
Zinc promotes normal growth and development. It forms part of the molecular structure of 80 or more known enzymes that work with red blood cells to move carbon dioxide from tissues to lungs. Zinc also helps maintain an effective immune system. Severe zinc deficiency causes growth retardation, diarrhoea, skin lesions, loss of appetite, hair loss and, in boys, slow sexual development. Zinc has now been shown to have a therapeutic effect on diarrhoea cases.
Breastmilk has small amounts of zinc that are readily absorbed. Other sources include whole-grain cereals, legumes, meat, chicken and fish. Vegetables and fruits contain little zinc but when eaten with cereals may increase the bio-availability of zinc in cereals.
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