In What to Feed Your Baby, I pointed out the importance of zinc in processing our genetic codes and in the manufacture of the proteins, fats and carbohydrates a body requires; and that a deficiency of zinc can diminish appetite and delay growth and sexual development. Because its absence can also diminish resistance and result in diarrhea, zinc is often recommended when diarrhea develops, particularly in developing countries.
Dr. Malik and his colleagues in New Delhi tried a different approach with dramatic results.* They gave a daily dose of 20 mg of zinc to infants from 6-11 months of age for only 2 weeks. In the 5 months that they followed these infants, the episodes of diarrhea dropped 39% and the duration of each episode decreased 36% when compared to infants who did not receive the supplement.
This study was of particular interest in the international community because many of the foods in India and developing nations have little zinc but high levels of phytates which can interfere with zinc absorption. However, zinc supplementation may also be of importance in the United States and Europe for those infants who have frequent diarrhea and infections or for those who are being fed a vegan diet. Zinc can be lost in poops (stool evacuations) and it may be low in some diets that do not contain fish or meat. Fish and meat are good sources of zinc and vegetables often have high phytate levels that lessen zinc absorption.