Zinc deficiency has been associated with an increased risk of gastrointestinal infections, adverse effects on the structure and function of the gastrointestinal tract, and impaired immune function. Recently, oral zinc therapy has been added to the standard treatment of diarrhoea by the World Health Organization, as it can improve outcomes in paediatric patients with diarrhoea, especially those in developing countries.
A randomized open-label multicentre study was conducted in 100 paediatric patients with diarrhoea. Patients were randomized to the control group (received standard treatment for diarrhoea, such as oral rehydration solution [ORS], intravenous fluids, and antibiotics as required) or the zinc study group (received standard treatment plus oral zinc sulfate). Patients were followed up until recovery and collection of necessary data.
Of the 100 children enrolled in the study, 50 % were aged 1–5 years and 50 % were aged <1 year. In the overall population, children were treated with ORS (67 %), intravenous fluids (50 %) and antibiotics (77 %). The mean frequency of diarrhoea episodes was significantly (p < 0.05) lower in the zinc group than in the control group on day 4 of illness, but not on days 1, 2 and 3. All patients recovered on day 4 in the zinc group, while nine patients required treatment on day 5 in the control group (p < 0.05).
In young children with diarrhoea, the addition of oral zinc supplementation to standard anti-diarrhoeal therapy may reduce the time to resolution of diarrhoea relative to standard treatment alone in developing countries.