Effect of zinc supplementation on incidence of infections and hospital admissions in sickle cell disease (SCD)

Am J Hematol. 1999 Jul;61(3):194-202. doi: 10.1002/(sici)1096-8652(199907)61:3<194::aid-ajh6>3.0.co;2-c.


Zinc deficiency is a common nutritional problem in adult sickle-cell disease (SCD) patients. Hyperzincuria and increased requirement of zinc due to continued hemolysis in SCD are probable bases for zinc deficiency in these patients. Zinc deficiency affects adversely T-helper1 (TH1) functions and cell mediated immunity and interleukin (IL)-2 production is decreased in zinc deficient subjects. We hypothesized that zinc supplementation will improve T-helper1 function and decrease incidence of infections in patients with SCD. We tested this hypothesis in 32 SCD subjects who were divided in three groups (Grs A, B, and C). Grs A (n = 11) and B (n = 10) were zinc deficient based on cellular zinc criteria and Gr C (n = 11) were zinc sufficient. Gr A subjects were observed for 1 year (baseline), following which they received zinc acetate (50 to 75 mg of elemental zinc orally daily) for 3 years. Gr B subjects were observed for 1 year (baseline), following which they received placebo for 1 year and then switched to zinc supplementation (50 to 75 mg of elemental zinc orally daily) for 2 years. Gr C subjects did not receive any intervention inasmuch as they were zinc sufficient. Prolonged zinc supplementation resulted in an increase in lymphocyte and granulocyte zinc (P = 0.0001), and an increase in interleukin-2 production (P = 0.0001), decreased incidence of documented bacteriologically positive infections (P = 0.0026), decreased number of hospitalizations and decreased number of vaso-occlusive pain crisis (P = 0.0001). The predominant pathogens isolated were staphylococci and streptococci involving the respiratory tract and aerobic gram-negative bacteria, particularly Escherichia coli, involving the urinary tract. Further confirmation of our observations will require prospective studies of zinc supplementation in a larger number of SCD patients.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Controlled Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Adult
  • Anemia, Sickle Cell / blood
  • Anemia, Sickle Cell / complications*
  • Anemia, Sickle Cell / drug therapy*
  • Communicable Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Granulocytes / metabolism
  • Hematocrit
  • Hemoglobins / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Interleukin-2 / blood
  • Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • Middle Aged
  • Time Factors
  • Zinc / administration & dosage
  • Zinc / deficiency
  • Zinc / therapeutic use*


  • Hemoglobins
  • Interleukin-2
  • Zinc