Zinc deficiency in infants (6-12 months)

Why is zinc important?

Zinc is an essential nutrient in the immune system, where it is used to by many of the processes in the bloodstream that become active in combating infections, including increased production of white blood cells [1]. It also protects the intestinal walls from infections. Zinc has direct antiviral effects and supports the activation of antioxidant defenses in damaged tissues.

All growing cells also require zinc on a routine basis, which is why zinc deficiency is associated with growth delays in infants and children. This also means that tissues with faster rates of growth and regeneration are affected, including cells in the intestine, blood and skin.

What causes zinc deficiency in toddlers after 6 months?

Zinc levels in breastmilk naturally decline [2]  after the first 6 months, so infants need to get zinc from other sources. Zinc deficiency is higher in developing including those in South Asia [3]. It is the most common form of nutrient deficiency in children.

Complementary and formula feeding can provide a continued source of zinc. Some children are born with zinc deficiency from a genetic problem, or because they were premature and had lower birth weight to start with, they may be compromised in their growth rates. Complementary feeding with low protein levels may also not provide enough zinc.

What are some of the signs?

  • Diarrhea – this is the biggest problem related to zinc deficiency and is the most common cause health problems in children under 5 years worldwide [4]
  • Slower growth rate – zinc is important for controlling growth in cells and tissues all over the body, from activating processes that produce energy, to those that control genes, so it is a critical nutrient for development.
  • Other signs [5] include loss of appetite, longer time taken for wounds to heal, tiredness, skin rashes and dermatitis

What are some of the longer-term effects?

  • Immune system decline – zinc is involved in hundreds of mechanisms in the immune system, so the child is more likely to get sick more frequently, especially from stomach and gut viruses
  • Decrease in learning ability – zinc is very important for brain function and cognitive development [6].
  • Stunting – longer term lack of zinc and other micronutrients that control growth processes is a major factor in lower height for age [7]
  • Ongoing zinc deficiency may cause longer-term issues like liver and metabolic problems, through its roles in carbohydrate breakdown

How to improve zinc deficiency in toddlers?

  • Formula feeding is a good way to improve zinc status, because it provides controlled, balanced level and is absorbed through the diet. It also contains other vitamins and minerals that work together with zinc, such as B-vitamins, copper and
  • Providing small amounts of cooked meat or egg mashed with vegetables is another good way to add extra zinc in the diet through food. Lean meats are a good source of zinc and iron.
  1. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF02828114
  2. Zinc transfer to the breastfed infant – PubMed (nih.gov)
  3. Zinc Status in South Asian Populations—An Update (nih.gov)
  4. http://www.rehydrate.org/zinc/index.html
  5. ANM348261.indd (karger.com)
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11509102/
  7. https://link.springer.com/referenceworkentry/10.1007/978-3-319-40007-5_93-1