Jan. 24 2002 -- Many children with sickle cell disease suffer from slow or stunted growth, but a new study shows that simply adding zinc to their diet can increase height and weight.
Sickle cell disease is a genetic blood condition that occurs primarily in blacks. The blood cells that carry oxygen -- red blood cells -- become bent and then burst. This lack of healthy red blood cells causes anemia and all the cells in the body are deprived of oxygen.
Many people with the disease also suffer from zinc deficiency, which can cause slow growth in children and make adults more susceptible to infection.
In the study, researchers looked at the long-term effects of zinc supplementation among 38 children aged 4-10 years with sickle cell disease. Six of the children had low zinc levels in their blood at the beginning of the study. The results were published this week in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
They found that children who received 10 mg per day of the zinc supplements grew significantly taller than those that did not receive the supplements. For example, among 24 children whose initial height and weight were considered low, those who took zinc grew 1.3 cm -- about half an inch -- more than the others.
The zinc supplements also helped the children with sickle cell disease maintain a normal height and weight for their age. The children that did not take the zinc had the slow growth that is typical for youths with this disease.
In an editorial that accompanies the study, Ananda Prasad, MD, of the Wayne University School of Medicine in Detroit, says this study confirms that zinc plays a major role in the growth problems associated with sickle cell disease.
"These results provide further evidence that zinc deficiency resulting in growth retardation is a major clinical problem in patients with sickle cell disease," writes Prasad. "It is also clear that ... oral zinc supplementation corrects zinc deficiency."