Zinc and cognitive development

Br J Nutr. 2001 May:85 Suppl 2:S139-45. doi: 10.1079/bjn2000306.


Cognition is a field of thought processes by which an individual processes information through skills of perception, thinking, memory, learning and attention. Zinc deficiency may affect cognitive development by alterations in attention, activity, neuropsychological behavior and motor development. The exact mechanisms are not clear but it appears that zinc is essential for neurogenesis, neuronal migration, synaptogenesis and its deficiency could interfere with neurotransmission and subsequent neuropsychological behavior. Studies in animals show that zinc deficiency during the time of rapid brain growth, or during the juvenile and adolescent period affects cognitive development by decreasing activity, increasing emotional behavior, impairing memory and the capacity to learn. Evidence from human studies is limited. Low maternal intakes of zinc during pregnancy and lactation were found to be associated with less focused attention in neonates and decreased motor functions at 6 months of age. Zinc supplementation resulted in better motor development and more playfulness in low birth weight infants and increased vigorous and functional activity in infants and toddlers. In older school going children the data is controversial but there is some evidence of improved neuropsychological functions with zinc supplementation. Additional research is required to determine the exact biological mechanisms, the critical periods, the threshold of severity and the long-term effects of zinc deprivation on cognitive development.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Animals
  • Behavior
  • Brain Chemistry
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology*
  • Cognition Disorders / prevention & control
  • Female
  • Haplorhini
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Memory
  • Models, Animal
  • Neuropsychology
  • Zinc / administration & dosage
  • Zinc / deficiency*


  • Zinc