Nutrition plays a vital role in how humans handle serious infection. Eating foods high in zinc may influence the difference between life and death for some patients, according to a new study.
Critical care researchers at Ohio State University Medical Center found that correcting zinc deficiency may also significantly enhance a critically ill patient’s chance of surviving sepsis, a deadly blood infection that can lead to organ failure and death.
"Zinc deficiency is common in patients in intensive care units and in those at risk for developing sepsis," says Dr Elliott Crouser, a critical care specialist at Ohio State’s Medical Center and senior author of the study.
The findings are published online in the journal Critical Care Medicine and appear in the journal’s April issue.
Data suggests that many more individuals have zinc deficiency than originally predicted, and it is especially prevalent in elderly populations and people suffering from chronic diseases where zinc deficiency is prevalent, such as diabetes and alcoholism.
Zinc deficiency increases the likelihood of organ damage and amplifies the immune response, also preventing the clearance of infection, according to Daren Knoell, an investigator at Ohio State’s Dorothy M. Davis Heart and Lung Research Institute and first author of the study.
Researchers randomised mice into three different dietary groups: a normal control diet; a zinc-deficient diet; and, a zinc-deficient diet followed by zinc supplements for three additional days. The zinc-deficient mice experienced an exaggerated immune response, increased tissue damage and organ failure. Ninety percent of the zinc-deficient septic mice were dead within two days, compared to the control group where 30 percent died over the course of a week. The mice that had zinc added to their diets significantly improved their chances of survival, reporting a normalised inflammatory response and greatly diminished tissue damage.
Crouser and Knoell say future studies will be conducted at Ohio State to determine if correcting zinc deficiency in patients in the intensive care unit reduces the risk of dying from sepsis.
"Although zinc deficiency is common globally, it is fixable. If we could identify zinc deficient patients upon admittance to the hospital, we could very likely prevent them from contracting sepsis and death by providing supplementation and improved care," Knoell adds.
Foods high in zinc include beef, lamb, pork, crabmeat, turkey, chicken, lobster, clams and salmon. Additional good zinc food sources include dairy products such as milk and cheese, peanuts, beans, wholegrain cereals, brown rice, whole wheat bread, potatoes and yogurt.
Sepsis, the leading cause of hospital death, is a systemic response to infection affecting more than 750,000 Americans annually, killing more people than strokes, breast cancer and lung cancer combined.
(Source: Ohio State University Medical Center: Critical Care Medicine: May 2009)