Oral zinc for treating diarrhoea in children

Marzia Lazzerini, Humphrey Wanzira

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Background: In developing countries, diarrhoea causes around 500,000 child deaths annually. Zinc supplementation during acute diarrhoea is currently recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). Objectives: To evaluate oral zinc supplementation for treating children with acute or persistent diarrhoea. Search methods: We searched the Cochrane Infectious Diseases Group Specialized Register, CENTRAL (the Cochrane Library 2016, Issue 5), MEDLINE, Embase, LILACS, CINAHL, mRCT, and reference lists up to 30 September 2016. We also contacted researchers. Selection criteria: Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) that compared oral zinc supplementation with placebo in children aged one month to five years with acute or persistent diarrhoea, including dysentery. Data collection and analysis: Both review authors assessed trial eligibility and risk of bias, extracted and analysed data, and drafted the review. The primary outcomes were diarrhoea duration and severity. We summarized dichotomous outcomes using risk ratios (RR) and continuous outcomes using mean differences (MD) with 95% confidence intervals (CI). Where appropriate, we combined data in meta-analyses (using either a fixed-effect or random-effects model) and assessed heterogeneity. We assessed the certainty of the evidence using the GRADE approach. Main results: Thirty-three trials that included 10,841 children met our inclusion criteria. Most included trials were conducted in Asian countries that were at high risk of zinc deficiency. Acute diarrhoea There is currently not enough evidence from well-conducted RCTs to be able to say whether zinc supplementation during acute diarrhoea reduces death or number of children hospitalized (very low certainty evidence). In children older than six months of age, zinc supplementation may shorten the average duration of diarrhoea by around half a day (MD -11.46 hours, 95% CI -19.72 to -3.19; 2581 children, 9 trials, low certainty evidence), and probably reduces the number of children whose diarrhoea persists until day seven (RR 0.73, 95% CI 0.61 to 0.88; 3865 children, 6 trials, moderate certainty evidence). In children with signs of malnutrition the effect appears greater, reducing the duration of diarrhoea by around a day (MD -26.39 hours, 95% CI -36.54 to -16.23; 419 children, 5 trials, high certainty evidence). Conversely, in children younger than six months of age, the available evidence suggests zinc supplementation may have no effect on the mean duration of diarrhoea (MD 5.23 hours, 95% CI -4.00 to 14.45; 1334 children, 2 trials, moderate certainty evidence), or the number of children who still have diarrhoea on day seven (RR 1.24, 95% CI 0.99 to 1.54; 1074 children, 1 trial, moderate certainty evidence). None of the included trials reported serious adverse events. However, zinc supplementation increased the risk of vomiting in both age groups (children greater than six months of age: RR 1.57, 95% CI 1.32 to 1.86; 2605 children, 6 trials, moderate certainty evidence; children less than six months of age: RR 1.54, 95% CI 1.05 to 2.24; 1334 children, 2 trials, moderate certainty evidence). Persistent diarrhoea In children with persistent diarrhoea, zinc supplementation probably shortens the average duration of diarrhoea by around 16 hours (MD -15.84 hours, 95% CI -25.43 to -6.24; 529 children, 5 trials, moderate certainty evidence). Authors' conclusions: In areas where the prevalence of zinc deficiency or the prevalence of malnutrition is high, zinc may be of benefit in children aged six months or more. The current evidence does not support the use of zinc supplementation in children less six months of age, in well-nourished children, and in settings where children are at low risk of zinc deficiency.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberCD005436
JournalCochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 20 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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