A simple daily supplement of 20 mg of zinc is enough to help children recover from severe diarrhea. Taken early enough, it can also reduce the length of persistent diarrhea, a disease which can often last 14 days and kills millions of children every
Doctors usually treat persistent diarrhea with remedies which are inappropriate, costly and ineffective, such as antibiotics.
But researchers from the John Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, tested a theory of their own that zinc deficiency could be making diarrhea worse. They noted that zinc deficiency is a common factor in many of the serious cases of diarrhea.
To test their theory, they carried out a double-blind placebo study among 937 children, aged between six months and 35 months, in New Delhi, India, half of whom were given 20 mg of zinc supplements a day.
Children given the zinc showed a 23 per cent reduction in the risk of continued diarrhea, and the risk of continued diarrhea decreased by 38 per cent among the children given the supplements for longer than three days. Children who started taking supplements within three days of the diarrhea starting were 39 per cent less likely to have an attack that lasted longer than seven days (N Eng J Med, September 28, 1995).