Associations Between Intestinal Mucosal Function and Changes in Plasma Zinc Concentration Following Zinc Supplementation

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Subclinical environmental enteropathy is associated with malabsorption of fats, carbohydrates, and vitamins A, B12, and folate; however, little information is available on mineral absorption. We therefore investigated the relation between intestinal mucosal function (measured by the lactulose:mannitol permeability test and plasma citrulline concentration), and zinc (Zn) absorption, as estimated by the change in plasma Zn concentration (PZC) following short-term Zn or placebo supplementation.


We conducted a randomized, partially masked, placebo-controlled trial among 282 apparently healthy children 6 to 23 months of age in Burkina Faso. After completing baseline intestinal function tests, participants received either 5 mg Zn, as zinc sulfate, or placebo, daily for 21 days.


At baseline, mean ± standard deviation PZC was 62.9 ± 11.9 μg/dL; median (interquartile range) urinary lactulose:mannitol (L:M) recovery ratio and plasma citrulline concentrations were 0.04 (0.03–0.07) and 11.4 (9.0–15.6) μmol/L, respectively. Change in PZC was significantly greater in the Zn-supplemented versus placebo group (15.6 ± 13.3 vs 0.02 ± 10.9 μg/dL; P < 0.0001), and was negatively associated with initial urinary L:M recovery ratio (−1.1 μg/dL per 50% increase in urinary L:M recovery ratio; P = 0.014); this latter relation did not differ between supplementation groups (P = 0.26). Baseline plasma citrulline concentration was not associated with change in PZC.


Although altered intestinal permeability may reduce dietary Zn absorption, it likely does not undermine the efficacy of Zn supplementation, given the large increases in PZC following short-term Zn supplementation observed in this study, even among those with increased urinary L:M recovery ratios.

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