Since its first discovery in an Iranian male in 1961, zinc deficiency in humans is now known to be an important malnutrition problem world-wide. It is more prevalent in areas of high cereal and low animal food consumption. The diet may not necessarily be low in zinc, but its bio-availability plays a major role in its absorption. Phytic acid is the main known inhibitor of zinc. Compared to adults, infants, children, adolescents, pregnant, and lactating women have increased requirements for zinc and thus, are at increased risk of zinc depletion. Zinc deficiency during growth periods results in growth failure. Epidermal, gastrointestinal, central nervous, immune, skeletal, and reproductive systems are the organs most affected clinically by zinc deficiency. Clinical diagnosis of marginal Zn deficiency in humans remains problematic. So far, blood plasma/serum zinc concentration, dietary intake, and stunting prevalence are the best known indicators of zinc deficiency. Four main intervention strategies for combating zinc deficiency include dietary modification/diversification, supplementation, fortification, and bio-fortification. The choice of each method depends on the availability of resources, technical feasibility, target group, and social acceptance. In this paper, we provide a review on zinc biochemical and physiological functions, metabolism including, absorption, excretion, and homeostasis, zinc bio-availability (inhibitors and enhancers), human requirement, groups at high-risk, consequences and causes of zinc deficiency, evaluation of zinc status, and prevention strategies of zinc deficiency.
Keywords: Zinc absorption; zinc bio-availability; zinc deficiency; zinc intervention; zinc nutrition; zinc requirement.