Immunostimulating Effect of Zinc Supplements during Recovery of Severely Malnourished Children
Pre-school children suffering from protein-energy malnutrition (PEM) show immunodeficiency (1) characterised by impaired cellular immunity (2, 3) and thymic involution (4) with simultaneous altered thymulin content (5) and activity (6). The initial high level of ‘null cells’ or immature T lymphocytes (7, 8) was reduced by half after incubation in vitro with thymulin (9, 10). This indirectly demonstrates the depressed lympho-differentiative capacity of thymic hormones in malnutrition states. In a longitudinal study, clinical and anthropometrical recovery (11) of severely malnourished children was reached in 5 weeks, while thymic recovery required 9 weeks (10). Relapses (12) occurred after “apparently healthy” children were discharged, because they were still immune-depressed. Therefore, along with clinical and nutritional interventions, an immuno-stimulatory treatment was tested to more rapidly restore cellular immunity (13). Although thymulin happened to be the initial candidate, it was discarded because of excessive cost and difficult use and zinc, as a thymulin cofactor (14), was tested first. Compared to previous studies on zinc supplementation in treatment of severely malnourished children (15, 16, 17), we used ultrasonography, a non-invasive technique, to quantify the thymic mass and its restoration, and monoclonal antibodies (MABs) to evaluate the level of immature lymphocytes (9,10).
KeywordsZinc Supplementation Malnourished Child Initial High Level Immune Recovery Thymic Involution
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