Researchers have found that supplementation with vitamin A, iron and zinc helps the immune systems of children in developing countries. Little attention has been paid to the body’s zinc requirement because it is difficult to measure zinc levels in the blood. .
According to the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO), the immune system of young children shows a clear reaction to shortages of one of the three substances (iron, zinc or vitamin A). Research has shown that zinc deficiency leads to a reduction in the number of white blood cells and that a lack of vitamin A weakens the cell’s immune response.
The NWO researchers conclude that children probably have better resistance to disease if they consume enough iron, zinc and vitamin A. Zinc deficiency in developing countries is often due to the same causes as iron deficiency. It is the result of one-sided nutrition consisting of cereals, pulses and vegetables, without animal products. This type of diet contains a lot of phytateswhich bind iron and zinc and make it difficult for the blood to absorb them. Half of all pregnant women in developing countries suffer from anaemia because of a deficiency of iron. The NWO study indicates that a shortage of zinc might be just as common.