Low plasma zinc concentrations have been reported in approximately 30% of young infants with cystic fibrosis identified by newborn screening. The objective of this study was to examine zinc homeostasis in this population by application of stable isotope methodology. Fifteen infants with cystic fibrosis (9 male, 6 female; 7 breast-fed, 8 formula-fed) were studied at a mean (+/-SD) age of 1.8 +/- 0.7 mo. On d 1, 70Zn was administered intravenously, and 67Zn was quantitatively administered with all human milk/formula feeds during the day. Three days later, a 3-d metabolic period was initiated, during which time intake was measured and complete urine and fecal collections were obtained. Fractional zinc absorption, total absorbed zinc, endogenous fecal zinc, and net absorbed zinc were measured; fecal fat excretion was also determined. Fractional absorption was significantly higher for the breast-fed infants (0.40 +/- 0.21) compared with the formula-fed group (0.13 +/- 0.06) (p = 0.01), but with the significantly higher dietary zinc intake of the formula-fed group, total absorbed zinc was higher for those receiving formula (p = 0.01). In 1 infants with complete zinc metabolic data, excretion of endogenous zinc was twofold greater for the formula-fed infants (p < 0.05); net absorption (mg zinc/d) was negative for both feeding groups: -0.04 +/- 0.52 for breast-fed; -0.28 +/- 0.57 for formula-fed. Endogenous fecal zinc losses correlated with fecal fat excretion (r = 0.89, n = 9, p = 0.001), suggesting interference with normal conservation of endogenously secreted zinc. These findings indicate impaired zinc homeostasis in this population and suggest an explanation for the observations of suboptimal zinc status in many young infants with cystic fibrosis prior to diagnosis and treatment.