Oral zinc for treating diarrhoea in children

Lazzerini, Marzia. Ronfani, Luca. Cochrane Infectious Diseases Group Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. , 2009. [Systematic Review]


Diarrhoea causes around two million child deaths annually. Zinc supplementation could help reduce the duration and severity of diarrhoea, and is recommended by the World Health Organization and UNICEF. Objectives To evaluate oral zinc supplementation for treating children with acute or persistent diarrhoea. Search strategy In November 2007, we searched the Cochrane Infectious Diseases Group Specialized Register, CENTRAL ( 2007, Issue 4), MEDLINE, EMBASE, LILACS, CINAHL, RCT, and reference lists. We also contacted researchers. Selection criteria Randomized controlled trials comparing oral zinc supplementation (>= 5 mg/day for any duration) with placebo in children aged one month to five years with acute or persistent diarrhoea, including dysentery.

Data collection and analysis:

Both authors assessed trial eligibility and methodological quality, extracted and analysed data, and drafted the review. Diarrhoea duration and severity were the primary outcomes. We summarized dichotomous outcomes using risk ratios (RR) and continuous outcomes using mean differences (MD) with 95% confidence intervals (CI). Where appropriate, we combined data in meta-analyses (using the fixed- or random-effects model) and assessed heterogeneity. Main results Eighteen trials enrolling 6165 participants met our inclusion criteria. In acute diarrhoea, zinc resulted in a shorter diarrhoea duration (MD -12.27 h, 95% CI -23.02 to -1.52 h; 2741 children, 9 trials), and less diarrhoea at day three (RR 0.69, 95% CI 0.59 to 0.81; 1073 children, 2 trials), day five (RR 0.55, 95% CI 0.32 to 0.95; 346 children, 2 trials), and day seven (RR 0.71, 95% CI 0.52 to 0.98; 4087 children, 7 trials). The four trials (1458 children) that reported on diarrhoea severity used different units and time points, and the effect of zinc was less clear. Subgroup analyses by age (trials with only children aged less than six months) showed no benefit with zinc. Subgroup analyses by nutritional status, geographical region, background zinc deficiency, zinc type, and study setting did not affect the results’ significance. Zinc also reduced the duration of persistent diarrhoea (MD -15.84 h, 95% CI -25.43 to -6.24 h; 529 children, 5 trials). Few trials reported on severity, and results were inconsistent. No trial reported serious adverse events, but vomiting was more common in zinc-treated children with acute diarrhoea (RR 1.71, 95% 1.27 to 2.30; 4727 children, 8 trials).

Authors’ conclusions:

In areas where diarrhoea is an important cause of child mortality, research evidence shows zinc is clearly of benefit in children aged six months or more.

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