Upping your zinc intake can lower the chances of your baby having diarrhoea.
In a study, Peruvian infants of women who took zinc while pregnant had fewer days with diarrhoea, relative to infants of women who took a placebo. They were also less apt to have a bout of diarrhoea
lasting for more than a week.
Millions of youngsters in the developing world suffer diarrhoea, which can be life-threatening. Zinc deficiency increases the risk of death due to diarrhoea, as well as pneumonia, malaria and infectious disease.
Past studies have shown that giving zinc supplements to young children with diarrhoea helps clear up the problem faster, researchers note in The Journal of Paediatrics. The World Health Organization now recommends zinc supplementation in combination with rehydration therapy in the treatment of acute diarrhoea.
However, less is known about the period before birth "when zinc could potentially be most influential in later immune functioning," Dr. Laura E. Caulfield, of the Centre for Human Nutrition, Department of International Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore and colleagues point out.
In a prior study conducted in Bangladesh, zinc supplements given to pregnant women
cut the risk of diarrhoea in their infants by 26% and severe diarrhoea by 64%.
In the current study, Caulfield's team tested whether zinc supplements taken by pregnant women living in a slum of Lima, Peru, would curb diarrhoea-related illness in infants up to 12 months after birth. A total of 214 women took a daily supplement containing 15 milligrams zinc, 60 milligrams iron and 250 micrograms folic acid, while 207 matched "control" women took a similar-looking placebo supplement containing only iron and folic acid. About 420 infants were followed up for illness.
From the ages of 6 months to 1 year, 80% of the infants had at least one bout of diarrhoea. The range was 0 to 11 episodes.
According to the researchers, infants whose mothers took zinc while pregnant were sick about 6% of the days they were observed, whereas infants whose mothers took placebo were sick for around 8% of observation days.
In addition, infants of zinc supplemented moms were about 34% less likely to have an episode of diarrhoea lasting more than a week or to have mucus in the stool -- a sign of more severe diarrhoea. There was also some evidence of a reduction in cases of the skin disease scabies in infants whose mothers took zinc.
Diarrhoea-related illness is "a leading cause of death globally," Caulfield and colleagues note in their report. Their study, they say, supports improving prenatal zinc nutrition, especially in resource-poor, under-nourished populations, as a means of protecting infants against diarrhoea-related illness.
Still, they say, "many questions related to the benefits of supplementing pregnant women with zinc remain to be answered." Among them: Just how prenatal zinc exposure protects against diarrhea.