Perturbed zinc homeostasis in rural 3-5-y-old Malawian children is associated with abnormalities in intestinal permeability attributed to tropical enteropathy

Pediatr Res. 2010 Jun;67(6):671-5. doi: 10.1203/PDR.0b013e3181da44dc.


Tropical enteropathy and zinc deficiency are major public health problems worldwide. Tropical enteropathy is characterized by reduced mannitol absorption with normal or increased lactulose absorption when a dual sugar absorption test is administered, the results of which are reported as the lactulose:mannitol ratio (L:M). Zinc homeostasis is quantified with a dual stable isotope test. This study tested the hypothesis that endogenous fecal zinc (EFZ) was correlated with the L:M. A dual sugar absorption test and dual stable isotope test were performed on 25 asymptomatic Malawian children aged 3-5 y at risk for tropical enteropathy and zinc deficiency. EFZ and net zinc retention were estimated and correlated with the L:M. Twenty-two children (88%) had an abnormal L:M (L:M>0.10), and the L:M was 0.24+/-0.10 (mean+/-SD). EFZ was 1.68+/-1.06 mg/d, a quantity greater than is seen in healthy populations from the developed world. EFZ was positively correlated with the L:M (r=0.62, p<0.001). Net zinc retention (0.67+/-1.6 mg/d) was negatively correlated with the L:M (r=-0.47, p=0.02). This suggests that perturbed zinc homeostasis is associated with subclinical enteropathy in these children.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Child, Preschool
  • Developing Countries
  • Feces / chemistry
  • Female
  • Homeostasis
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Absorption*
  • Intestinal Mucosa / metabolism*
  • Lactulose
  • Malabsorption Syndromes / complications
  • Malabsorption Syndromes / diagnosis
  • Malabsorption Syndromes / metabolism*
  • Malawi
  • Male
  • Mannitol
  • Permeability
  • Rural Population*
  • Zinc / blood
  • Zinc / deficiency*


  • Biomarkers
  • Mannitol
  • Lactulose
  • Zinc