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Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology
Volume 10 (1996), Issue 1, Pages 37-42

Clinical Aspects of Trace Elements: Zinc in Human Nutrition - Assessment of Zinc Status

Michelle M Pluhator, Alan Br Thomson, and Richard N Fedorak

Division of Gastroenterology, Department of Medicine, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Received 16 August 1994; Revised 23 January 1995

Copyright © 1996 Hindawi Publishing Corporation. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Because the limiting and vulnerable zinc pool has not been identified, it becomes a challenge to determine which of the many zinc pools is most susceptible to deficiency. As a consequence, defining and assessing zinc status in the individual patient is a somewhat uncertain process. Laboratory analysis of zinc status is difficult because no single biochemical criterion can reliably reflect zinc body stores. Many indexes have been examined in the hopes of discovering a method for the assessment of zinc nutriture. None of the methods currently used can be wholeheartedly recommended because they are fraught with problems that affect their use and interpretation. However, these methods remain in use for clinical and research purposes, though their benefits and drawbacks must always be acknowledged. Until an acceptable method of analysis is discovered, clinicians must rely for confirmation of zinc deficiency on a process of supplementing with zinc and observing the patient’s response. The main indexes (plasma/serum, erythrocyte, leukocyte, neutrophil, urine, hair and salivary zinc levels, taste acuity and oral zinc tolerance tests, and measurement of metallothionein levels) are reviewed. Measurement of plasma or erythrocyte metallothionein levels shows promise as a future tool for the accurate determination of zinc status.