Oral zinc for treating diarrhoea in children


In developing countries, diarrhoea causes around two million child deaths annually. Zinc supplementation during acute diarrhoea is currently recommended by the World Health Organization and UNICEF.

To evaluate oral zinc supplementation for treating children with acute or persistent diarrhoea.

Search methods
In February 2012, we searched the Cochrane Infectious Diseases Group Specialized Register, CENTRAL (The Cochrane Library 2011, Issue 11), MEDLINE, EMBASE, LILACS, CINAHL, mRCT, and reference lists. We also contacted researchers.

Selection criteria
Randomized controlled trials comparing 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 authors assessed trial eligibility and risk of bias, extracted and analysed data, and drafted the review. Diarrhoea duration and severity were the primary outcomes. 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 the fixed- or random-effects model) and assessed heterogeneity.

The quality of evidence has been assessed using the GRADE methods

Main results
Twenty-four trials, enrolling 9128 children, met our inclusion criteria. The majority of the data is from Asia, from countries at high risk of zinc deficiency, and may not be applicable elsewhere.

Acute diarrhoea
There is currently not enough evidence from well conducted randomized controlled trials to be able to say whether zinc supplementation during acute diarrhoea reduces death or hospitalization (very low quality evidence).

In children aged greater than six months with acute diarrhoea, zinc supplementation may shorten the duration of diarrhoea by around 10 hours (MD -10.44 hours, 95% CI -21.13 to 0.25; 2091 children, five trials, low quality 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, six trials, moderate quality evidence). In children with signs of moderate malnutrition the effect appears greater, reducing the duration of diarrhoea by around 27 hours (MD -26.98 hours, 95% CI -14.62 to -39.34; 336 children, three trials, high quality evidence).

Conversely, In children aged less than six months, the available evidence suggests zinc supplementation may have no effect on mean diarrhoea duration (MD 5.23 hours, 95% CI -4.00 to 14.45; 1334 children, two trials, low quality evidence), and may even increase the proportion of children whose diarrhoea persists until day seven (RR 1.24, 95% CI 0.99 to 1.54; 1074 children, one trial, moderate quality evidence).

No trials reported serious adverse events, but zinc supplementation during acute diarrhoea causes vomiting in both age groups (RR 1.59, 95% 1.27 to 1.99; 5189 children, 10 trials, high quality evidence).

Persistent diarrhoea
In children with persistent diarrhoea, zinc supplementation probably shortens the duration of diarrhoea by around 16 hours (MD -15.84 hours, 95% CI -25.43 to -6.24; 529 children, five trials, moderate quality evidence).

Authors' conclusions
In areas where the prevalence of zinc deficiency or the prevalence of moderate 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 below six months of age.

Plain Language Summary: Oral zinc supplementation for treating diarrhoea in children

In developing countries, millions of children suffer from severe diarrhoea every year. This is due to infection and malnutrition, and many die from dehydration due to the diarrhoea. Giving fluids by mouth (using an oral rehydration solution) has been shown to save children's lives, but it seems to have no effect on the length of time the children suffer with diarrhoea. Children in developing countries are often zinc deficient. This systematic review of 24 trials involving more than 9000 children shows that zinc supplementation may reduce the duration of diarrhoea in children aged six months or more.


Lazzerini, M.; Ronfani, L. Oral zinc for treating diarrhoea in children. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (2012) (Issue 6) Art. No.: CD005436. [DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD005436.pub3]

Oral zinc for treating diarrhoea in children

Published 1 January 2012