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Zinc Supplements Save Poor Children's Lives

Simple intervention stopped pneumonia, diarrhea in African trial

FRIDAY, March 16, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- In the developing world, daily zinc supplements can reduce the risk of death in children aged 1 to 4, but they do not provide any significant benefit for babies under 1, U.S. researchers report.

Zinc, which is one of the most plentiful trace elements in the body, is believed to play an important role in healthy immune system function.

The study, by a team from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, included more than 42,500 children in the East African nation of Zanzibar. Half the children received daily zinc supplements (5 milligrams for infants, 10 milligrams for children 12 months and older), while the other half received a placebo pill.

Overall, children who took the zinc supplements were 7 percent less likely to die than those who took the placebo. In children aged 12 to 48 months, those taking zinc supplements were 18 percent less likely to die.

"This large trial demonstrates that the benefits of zinc supplementation include mortality reduction in addition to the reduction in cases of pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria that we found in previous trials," study senior author Dr. Robert Black, professor and chairman of the Bloomberg School's department of international health, said in a prepared statement.

The study appears in the March 17 issue of The Lancet.

"While further work is needed to evaluate higher dose effects, recommendations for use of zinc as a preventive strategy needs to consider the collective evidence of the effect on growth, morbidity and mortality, which would suggest benefit in children age 6 months and up," lead author Sunil Sazawal, an associate professor in the department of international health, said in a prepared statement.

More information

The Medlineplus Medical Encyclopedia has more about zinc.

SOURCE: Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, news release, Mach 15, 2007
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