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Zinc deficiency: an overlooked cause of poor health

02 January 2023
Volume 34 · Issue 1


Micronutrient deficiencies are common globally. George Winter looks at the effect of zinc deficiency on health in various groups of people

Deficiencies in each of the micronutrients zinc, iron, vitamin A, folate, vitamin B12, vitamin D and iodine can promote increased susceptibility to infections, birth defects, blindness, reduced growth, cognitive impairment, poor school performance and even death, with Stevens et al (2022) estimating that worldwide such deficiencies affect over half of preschool-aged children and two-thirds of non-pregnant women of reproductive age. Recently, however, there has been renewed focus on the micronutrient zinc.

Zinc is a trace element whose properties include regulation of gastrointestinal, immune, integumentary, reproductive and central nervous systems (Corbo and Lam, 2013). The body harbours two pools of the element: the first contains slow-exchanging zinc, mainly located in muscle and bone; the second, a rapid-exchanging zinc pool, is found in the blood, the gastrointestinal tract, the liver and other internal organs (De Benedictus et al, 2022). The rapidexchange pool is more reactive to the amount of zinc absorbed from food, and this pool is the first to be depleted through low dietary zinc intake.

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