Zinc deficiency and its repletion following liver transplantation in humans

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Zinc deficiency is common in patients with end-stage liver disease but its prevalence and resolution in liver transplant recipients has not been reported. We hypothesized that with normalization of liver function after transplant, zinc levels should rapidly return to normal, obviating the need for oral supplementation. Serum zinc levels were obtained as part of routine laboratory studies just prior to liver transplantation in 34 patients. Of these, 22 had at least one additional zinc level obtained post-transplant. The charts of these 34 patients were retrospectively reviewed for pre- and post-transplant zinc, albumin, protein, and cholesterol levels, prothrombin times, use of oral zinc supplementation, and patient demographics including age, gender, cause of liver failure, UNOS status at the time of transplant, and the use of a pre-transplant trans-jugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunt (TIPS). Post-transplant, the patients received standard enteral formula for nutrition. The overall zinc level for the group was 37.4±9.0 μg/dl (mean ± s.d., normal = 60-150 μg/dl). Thirty-two of the 34 patients (94%) had a zinc level in the subnormal range. There were no differences in zinc levels between patients with alcoholic and non-alcoholic liver failure, males versus females, UNOS status (low = status 1 and 2, high = 3 and 4), pre-transplant use of TIPS nor correlation between age and zinc level. All 22 patients who had a post-transplant zinc level demonstrated an increase from 40.1±9.7 μg/dl to 68.5±14.1 μg/dl (p≤0.0001, paired t-test). Our findings indicate that zinc deficiency, generally profound, should be assumed to be present in every patient with end-stage liver disease awaiting transplant. During the waiting period oral supplementation with zinc should be provided. The degree of deficiency is not effected by cause of liver failure, UNOS status, or the presence of TIPS. Following transplantation, zinc levels rapidly recover, obviating the need for checking levels and oral supplementation.

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