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Zinc has roles in learning, immunity.

Zinc has roles in learning, immunity

Birth defects, stunted growth and delayed sexual maturation are the most striking problems showm by laboratory rodents fed diets severely deficient in zinc, according to Mari Golub, a behavioral biologist at the University of California's primate research center in Davis. Concerned whether related but less severe problems might occur among moderately zinc-deprived humans, she and her colleagues studied rhesus monkeys, which model many features of human development and metabolism.

While downplaying the likelihood of such sever effects in zinc-deficient humans, their findings, reported in the June AMERICAN JOURNAL OF CLINICAL NUTRITION, do point to other, more subtle problems: impaired immune function and slower learning.

The researchers followed 10 monkeys from birth through their adolescent growth spurt. Half received just 4 parts per million (ppm) zinc in their daily diet, both in utero and postpartum -- a level the researchers term "marginal zinc deprivation." The other half received 100 ppm zinc in their diet -- far more than they required.

Compared with monkeys getting plenty of zinc, monkeys on the deficient diet had blood zinc levels 38 percent lower and immune function depressed 20 to 30 percent. Significant learning impairments also were found. For example, it took zinc-deficient animals two to three times longer to discriminate between a circle and cross.

Effects seen in this "elegant" study mirro r those already reported in rodents -- especially where zinc deprivation began in utero, notes Harold Sandstead at the University of Texas in Galveston. More important, he believes, these findings suggest problems that may be occurring in many developing countries where malnourished people are surviving on low-zinc diets: cereals and no meat.
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Author:Raloff, Janet
Publication:Science News
Date:Jul 9, 1988
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