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Healthcare practitioners seem to misdiagnose zinc deficiency, unaware about side effects of excess.

Posted:  Friday, June 26, 2015

Zinc is an important essential mineral and many a times could be deficient in the diet. So what is the popular way to address this lack? Pop in a zinc supplement. Even doctors often advise the same. However, a small audit of clinical practice in the United States of America found that doctors frequently misdiagnose zinc deficiency and may be unaware of the effects of zinc excess too.

Excess of zinc consumed in the form of dietary supplements may hamper absorption of another mineral copper, causing anaemia and neurological problems. For this study, published in the Journal of Clinical Pathology, the researchers evaluated 70 patients prescribed zinc supplements between 2000 and 2010. As part of their workup, the lab test results of zinc, copper, albumin, and C-reactive protein (CRP) were observed. Low levels of albumin and high CRP levels were indicative of zinc deficiency.

Additionally, the researchers looked at the reason for prescribing zinc supplements, whether the patients were warned about the potential side effects of high doses of zinc, the duration of treatment, and the development of anaemia or neurological symptoms among the patients. They found the following:

- Zinc was prescribed for a range of reasons including skin healing in conditions such as leg sores or ulcers, poor nutrition, zinc deficiency, support for alcohol withdrawal, and alopecia.

- Although the doctors measured zinc levels before prescription, a low zinc levels were thought to be caused due to low levels of albumin and CRP. In essence, serum copper levels were measured only in 2 patients.

- A whopping 60% of the patients were given zinc supplements at doses of 90 – 180 mg/day. This contrasts the daily zinc requirement of 5.5 to 9.5 mg for men and 4 to 7 mg for women.

- In almost 94% of the cases, the duration of treatment was unknown.

- In all, 13 patients developed anaemia, neutropenia and/or neurological conditions. In 6 of them, these symptoms pre-dated zinc prescription. The symptoms were associated with zinc induced copper deficiency found the researchers.

Although the US recommended tolerable upper limit for zinc is 40 mg/day, zinc supplements are only available in formulations ranging between 45 – 50 mg/day. Talking about the findings of the study, the researchers concluded saying, “These findings underline the lack of awareness of zinc induced copper deficiency. Zinc is an essential trace element, and so clinicians may consider it a safe nutrient rather than a drug carrying potential risk.”

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