Zinc Treatment for Diarrhea

Zinc therapy together with oral rehydration salts (ORS) reduces the frequency, duration, and severity of diarrheal episodes. Diarrheal illness kills approximately 2.5 million children under the age of five years each year. Studies indicate that children treated with supplemental zinc had a 19 percent and 13 percent reduction in average stool frequency in acute and persistent diarrhea, respectively, compared to those who received no supplement.  Diarrhea duration was shortened by 15 percent among children who received zinc treatment (Lukacik et al., 2008).  

In 2004 WHO and UNICEF released a joint statement for treatment of acute diarrhea recommending therapeutic zinc for 10–14 days along with newly formulated oral rehydration salts containing lower concentrations of glucose and salt. The statement also emphasizes early administration of increased amounts of appropriate home fluids at the onset of diarrhea, continued feeding or increased breastfeeding during the diarrheal episode, and increased feeding after the episode.

The challenge is to make zinc therapy and ORS a routine practice both in the home and the health facility. This will require the availability, procurement, and distribution of a quality and appropriate product; health worker and physician training and endorsement; and social marketing campaigns to promote the correct use of zinc and ORS.  The main gap currently is lack of universally approved products of high quality.

A2Z Response
A2Z is working with the Departments of Health of the Philippines and Uganda to:

  • Advocate for revised and updated diarrhea treatment guidelines through dissemination and global dialogue on the evidence and implications of zinc therapy for policy and programs
  • Help identify appropriate zinc products and delivery mechanisms
  • Improve forecasting the quantity of zinc supplements needed in diarrhea programs

Visit the Resources section of the website for more information on zinc supplementation. 


Reference: Lukacik M, Thomas RL, Aranda JV. A meta-analysis of the effects of oral zinc in the treatment of acute and persistent diarrhea. Pediatrics 2008;121:236–336.