Current Gastroenterology Reports

, Volume 1, Issue 5, pp 398–403

Zinc and intestinal function

  • Carol E. Semrad


Zinc is an abundant trace element in the human body that is essential for growth and development and immune function. It is important for the formation of biomembranes and zinc finger motifs found in DNA transcription factors and has catalytic function in metalloenzymes. The intestine is the site of zinc absorption and the major route of zinc excretion. Dietary inadequacy or conditions that decrease zinc absorption or increase its losses from the gastrointestinal tract, urine, or skin may quickly cause zinc deficiency due to the limited availability of rapidly exchangeable zinc pools in the body. Diarrhea is both a sign and a cause of zinc deficiency. The mechanism by which zinc deficiency causes diarrhea is not known. At this time, there is no readily available sensitive test for the detection of zinc deficiency, and therefore clinical suspicion remains the main mode of detection. In some individuals with diarrheal disease, zinc supplementation lessens diarrhea. Those receiving prolonged supplemental zinc therapy need to be monitored for copper deficiency.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

References and Recommended Reading

  1. 1.
    Argiratos V, Samman S: The effect of calcium carbonate and calcium citrate on the absorption of zinc in healthy female subjects. Eur J Clin Nutr 1994, 45:198–204.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Snedeker SM, Smith SA, Greger JL: Effect of dietary calcium and phosphorous levels on the utilization of iron, copper, and zinc by adult males. J Nutr 1982, 112:136–143.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    McKenna AA, Ilich JZ, Andon MB, et al.:: Zinc balance in adolescent females consuming a low- or high-calcium diet. Am J Clin Nutr 1997, 65:1460–1464.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Sandstrom B, Davidsson L, Cederblad A, et al.:: Oral iron, dietary ligands and zinc absorption. J Nutr 1985, 115:411–414.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Valberg LS, Flanagan PR, Chamberlain MJ: Effects of iron, tin and copper on zinc absorption. Am J Clin Nutr 1984, 40:536–541.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Turnlund JR, Durkin N, Costa F, et al.:: Stable isotope studies of zinc absorption and retention in young and elderly men. J Nutr 1986, 116:1239–1247.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Gunshin H, Mackenzie B, Berger UV, et al.:: Cloning and characterization of a mammalian proton-coupled metal-ion transporter. Nature 1997, 388:482–488. This paper reports cloning and characterization of DCT1, the first mammalian divalent cation uptake process identified. DCT1 is upregulated by iron and shows substrate specificity for zinc as well as iron.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Reyes JG: Zinc transport in mammalian cells. Am J Physiol 1996, 270:C401–410.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Palmiter RD, Findley SD: Cloning and functional characterization of a mammalian zinc transporter that confers resistance to zinc. EMBO J 1995, 14:639–649.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    McMahon RJ, Cousins RJ: Regulation of the zinc transporter ZnT-1 by dietary zinc. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 1998, 95:4841–4846. The authors show that ZnT-1 is localized to the basolateral surface of intestinal villous epithelial cells using immunofluoresence. Whereas an oral load of zinc increased intestinal ZnT-1 mRNA levels, protein expression was not increased (the reverse was observed in liver tissues). Clearly, other factors are involved in the regulation of ZnT-1 transport proteins.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Palmiter RD, Cole TB, Findley SD: ZnT-2, a mammalian protein that confers resistance to zinc by facilitating vesicular sequestration. EMBO J 1996, 15:1784–1791. These authors report on identification of a zinc transporter that is localized on intracellular vesicles. Using zinc-specific fluorescent probes, they demonstrated that ZnT-2 transports zinc into vesicles, thereby protecting transfected cells from toxicity.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Foote JW, Delves HT: Albumin bound and alpha-2-macroglobulin bound zinc concentrations in the sera of healthy adults. J Clin Pathol 1984, 37:1050–1054.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Wolman SL, Anderson G, Marliss EB, et al.:: Zinc in total parenteral nutrition: requirements and metabolic effects. Gastroenterology 1979, 76:458–467.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Ruel MT, Rivera JA, Santizo M-C, et al.:: Impact of zinc supplementation on morbidity from diarrhea and respiratory infections among rural Guatemalan children. Pediatrics 1997, 99:808–813.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Hambidge KM: Zinc and diarrhea. Acta Paediatr Suppl 1992, 381:82–86.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Sazawal S, Black RE, Bhan MK, et al.:: Zinc supplementation in young children with acute diarrhea in India. N Engl J Med 1995, 333:839–844. Report from a large study involving 937 children in India. The authors investigated the effect of zinc supplementation on acute diarrhea in this double-blinded, randomized, and controlled trial. All children also received oral rehydration solution and vitamin supplements. Dietary intakes were not measured.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Atherton DJ, Muller, DPR, Aggett, PJ, et al.:: A defect in zinc uptake by jejunal biopsies in acrodermatitis enteropathica. Clin Sci (Lond) 1979, 56:505–507.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Piletz JE, Ganschow RE: Zinc deficiency in murine milk underlies expression of the lethal milk (lm) mutation. Science 1978, 199:181–183.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Huang L, Gitschier J: A novel gene involved in zinc transport is deficient in the lethal milk mouse. Nat Genet 1997, 17:292–297. The first identification of an inherited defect in a zinc-transport gene in mammals is reported here.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Walravens PA, Hambidge KM, Koepfer DM: Zinc supplementation in infants with a nutritional pattern of failure to thrive: a double-blind, controlled study. Pediatrics 1989, 83:532–538.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Zarling EJ, Mobarhan S, Donahue PE: Does zinc deficiency affect intestinal protein content or disaccharidase activity? J Lab Clin Med 1985, 106:708–711.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Moran JR, Lewis JC: The effects of severe zinc deficiency on intestinal permeability: an ultrastructural study. Pediatr Res 1985, 19:968–973.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Rodriguez P, Darmon N, Chappuis P, et al.:: Intestinal paracellular permeability during malnutrition in guinea pigs: effect of high dietary zinc. Gut 1996, 39:416–422.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Ghishan FK: Transport of electrolytes, water and glucose in zinc deficiency. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr 1984, 3:608–612.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Blanchard RK, Cousins RJ: Upregulation of rat intestinal uroguanylin mRNA by dietary zinc restriction. Am J Physiol 1997, 272:G972-G978. The authors identify zinc deficiency as the first known regulator of the hormone uroguanylin in rats.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Fan X, Hamra FK, Freeman RH, et al.:: Uroguanylin: cloning of preprouroguanylin cDNA, mRNA expression in the intestine and heart and isolation of uroguanylin and prouroguanylin from plasma. Biochem Biophys Res Commun 1996, 219:457–462.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Hamra FK, Eber SL, Chin DT, et al.:: Regulation of intestinal uroguanylin/guanylin receptor-mediated responses by mucosal acidity. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 1997, 94:2705–2710.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Perkins A, Goy MF, Li Z: Uroguanylin is expressed by enterochromaffin cells in the rat gastrointestinal tract. Gastroenterolgy 1997, 113:1007–1014.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Kararskis EJ, Schuna A: Serum alkaline phsophatase after treatment of zinc deficiency in humans. Am J Clin Nutr 1980, 33:2609–2612.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Gordon W, White PJ: Zinc deficiency in total parenteral nutrition. S Afr Med J 1978, 54:823–824.Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    Festa MD, Anderson HL, Dowdy RP, et al: Effect of zinc intake on copper excretion and retention in men. Am J Clin Nutr 1985, 41:258–292.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Fosmire GM: Zinc toxicity. Am J Clin Nutr 1990,51:225–227.PubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Current Science Inc 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carol E. Semrad
    • 1
  1. 1.Columbia University College of Physicians and SurgeonsNew YorkUSA

Personalised recommendations