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Zinc boosts antibiotic treatment of pneumonia in children
Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research in Bangladesh (ICDDR, B). have found that combining zinc with antibiotics decreases the duration of pneumonia in children. The disease is one of the leading causes of death in children under the age of five.
In a double-blind study reported in the May 22 2004 issue of The Lancet, (http://www.thelancet.com) W Abdullah Brooks, MD and colleagues randomly assigned 20 milligrams zinc per day or a placebo to 270 children with severe pneumonia who were being treated with antibiotics. The children, who were between the ages of two and twenty-three months of age, recovered a day earlier and had an average hospital stay that was one day less than those who received the placebo. Signs and symptoms of pneumonia, including severely elevated respiration rates and low blood oxygen, were of shorter duration in the group who received zinc. Eleven children in the placebo group experienced failure of treatment with the initial antibiotics used compared to only two of the children who received zinc.
Dr Brooks, who is the lead author of the study, stated, "Our study shows that adding zinc to the standard antibiotic treatment significantly reduces the recovery time and overall hospital stay of children with severe pneumonia. The children who received zinc were also less likely to need a change in the antibiotic being used. This could have significant implications for reducing antibiotic-resistant infections by decreasing antibiotic exposure."
Senior investigator Robert Black, MD, added, "The zinc supplement was safe and substantially reduced the effects of acute pneumonia in young children. It could be especially beneficial in the developing world where millions of children die from pneumonia each year and where second line antibiotics may not be available."
The concept that appropriate nutrients can enhance the human immune response is known as nutritional immunology. The foundation of this field of study was laid in the early 1800s when physicians discovered that severe malnutrition led to thymic atrophy. For most of that century, the evidence of a relationship between malnutrition and the immune system was based on anatomical findings. With the discovery of vitamins, it became evident that essential nutrients played a critical role in maintaining immune function (Beisel 1996).
Studies published in the 1980s and 1990s clearly show specific immune-enhancing effects of the proper use of nutritional supplements, proteins, hormones, and certain drugs. Micronutrients are now known to play a key role in many of the metabolic processes that promote survival from critical illnesses (Chandra 1983; Chandra et al. 1986). The paragraphs that follow discuss the correct balance of nutrients, nutrient supplements, proteins, and hormones and examine their role in enhancing the human immune system.
Over the last 30 years, a large amount of literature supports repeatedly the connection between vitamin and mineral balance and immunity, resistance to infection, and allergy (High 1999). The most consistent nutrients linked to immune dysfunction have been low levels of vitamins A, C, E, and B6, copper, iron, and zinc (Johnson et al. 1992; Grimble 1997; Shankar et al. 1998; Ravaglia et al. 2000). Interestingly, many of these nutrients are linked to deficiency in the North American population. Kenneth H. Brown, a University of California at Davis nutrition professor, estimated that as much as half of the world population is at risk for zinc deficiency and 40% of children in low-income countries have stunted growth related to zinc deficiency. Infants, young children, and pregnant or nursing women are especially at high risk for zinc deficiency because they have increased needs for this essential nutrient.
The trace element zinc has many roles in basic cellular function. These include DNA replication, RNA transcription, cell division, and cell activation. Zinc is a specific activator of T-cells, T-cell division, and other immune cells (Prasad et al. 1997). Zinc also functions as an antioxidant and stabilizes membranes. Zinc-deficient patients display reduced resistance to infection, and Scott et al. (2000) found that in the parasite-infected host (in this case mice), any zinc deficiency results in better survival of the parasite. Thus, zinc is known to play a pivotal role in the efficiency of the entire immune system. In our diet, zinc and protein are linked, so that protein deficiency of any kind will inevitably result in zinc deficiency. Zinc is present in high-protein foods such as meat, oysters, nuts, and seeds. Zinc's importance in many aspects of the immune system, from skin barrier to lymphocyte gene regulation, may be based on its importance in cellular function.
Zinc is a mineral essential for formation of superoxide dismutase, one of the body’s most important free radical scavengers and one that cannot be directly supplemented. Zinc also promotes wound healing, immune function, taste sensitivity, protein synthesis, insulin production, and reproduction including organ development and sperm motility.
Zinc lozenges can provide dietary support during the cold and flu season. Each lozenge contains 23 milligrams zinc and 100 milligrams vitamin C.
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