Zinc is an essential micronutrient, which is needed so that the immune system works at its best and helps the body fight off infection. People may not get enough zinc from food alone. Researchers have therefore looked at zinc supplements as a way of reducing anaemia and preventing infections and complications. The review authors searched the medical literature for randomised controlled studies in which people with sickle cell disease or thalassaemia received either zinc supplements or no supplements. We included nine trials in the review (459 participants). In people with thalassaemia, there is no evidence to indicate any benefit of zinc supplements on serum zinc level. However, there was an improvement in height in those who received the supplements. There is mixed evidence on the benefit of using zinc supplements in people with sickle cell disease. For instance, there is evidence that when supplements are given for one year the serum zinc levels increased; however, haemoglobin levels and body mass index did not differ significantly between groups. We also found that people with sickle cell disease who received zinc supplements (at both three months and at one year) had fewer sickle cell crises and infections. However, given that the total number of trials is small, these results should be treated with caution.
According to the results, there is no evidence from randomised controlled trials to indicate any benefit of zinc supplementation with regards to serum zinc level in patients with thalassaemia. However, height velocity was noted to increase among those who received this intervention.
There is mixed evidence on the benefit of using zinc supplementation in people with sickle cell disease. For instance, there is evidence that zinc supplementation for one year increased the serum zinc levels in patients with sickle cell disease. However, though serum zinc level was raised in patients receiving zinc supplementation, haemoglobin level and anthropometry measurements were not significantly different between groups. Evidence of benefit is seen with the reduction in the number of sickle cell crises among sickle cell patients who received one year of zinc sulphate supplementation and with the reduction in the total number of clinical infections among sickle cell patients who received zinc supplementation for both three months and for one year.
The conclusion is based on the data from a small group of trials,which were generally of good quality, with a low risk of bias. The authors recommend that more trials on zinc supplementation in thalassaemia and sickle cell disease be conducted given that the literature has shown the benefits of zinc in these types of diseases.
Haemoglobinopathies, inherited disorders of haemoglobin synthesis (thalassaemia) or structure (sickle cell disease), are responsible for significant morbidity and mortality throughout the world. The WHO estimates that, globally, 5% of adults are carriers of a haemoglobin condition, 2.9% are carriers of thalassaemia and 2.3% are carriers of sickle cell disease. Carriers are found worldwide as a result of migration of various ethnic groups to different regions of the world. Zinc is an easily available supplement and intervention programs have been carried out to prevent deficiency in people with thalassaemia or sickle cell anaemia. It is important to evaluate the role of zinc supplementation in the treatment of thalassaemia and sickle cell anaemia to reduce deaths due to complications.
To assess the effect of zinc supplementation in the treatment of thalassaemia and sickle cell disease.
We searched the Cochrane Cystic Fibrosis and Genetic Disorders Group's Haemoglobinopathies Trials Register comprising references identified from comprehensive electronic database searches and handsearches of relevant journals and abstract books of conference proceedings.
Date of most recent search: 01 February 2013.
Randomised, placebo-controlled trials of zinc supplements for treating thalassaemia or sickle cell disease administered at least once a week for at least a month.
Two review authors assessed the eligibility and risk of bias of the included trials, extracted and analysed data and wrote the review. We summarised results using risk ratios or rate ratios for dichotomous data and mean differences for continuous data. We combined trial results where appropriate.
We identified nine trials for inclusion with all nine contributing outcome data. Two trials reported on people with thalassaemia (n = 152) and seven on sickle cell anaemia (n = 307).
In people with thalassaemia, in one trial, the serum zinc level value showed no difference between the zinc supplemented group and the control group, mean difference 47.40 (95% confidence interval -12.95 to 107.99). Regarding anthropometry, in one trial, height velocity was significantly increased in patients who received zinc supplementation for one to seven years duration, mean difference 3.37 (95% confidence interval 2.36 to 4.38) (total number of participants = 26). In one trial, however, there was no difference in body mass index between treatment groups.
Zinc acetate supplementation for three months (in one trial) and one year (in two trials) (total number of participants = 71) was noted to increase the serum zinc level significantly in patients with sickle cell anaemia, mean difference 14.90 (95% confidence interval 6.94 to 22.86) and 20.25 (95% confidence interval 11.73 to 28.77) respectively. There was no significant difference in haemoglobin level between intervention and control groups, at either three months (one trial) or one year (one trial), mean difference 0.06 (95% confidence interval -0.84 to 0.96) and mean difference -0.07 (95% confidence interval -1.40 to 1.26) respectively. Regarding anthropometry, one trial showed no significant changes in body mass index or weight after one year of zinc acetate supplementation. In patients with sickle cell disease, the total number of sickle cell crises at one year were significantly decreased in the zinc sulphate supplemented group as compared to controls, mean difference -2.83 (95% confidence interval -3.51 to -2.15) (total participants 130), but not in zinc acetate group, mean difference 1.54 (95% confidence interval -2.01 to 5.09) (total participants 22). In one trial at three months and another at one year, the total number of clinical infections were significantly decreased in the zinc supplemented group as compared to controls, mean difference 0.05 (95% confidence interval 0.01 - 0.43) (total number of participants = 36), and mean difference -7.64 (95% confidence interval -10.89 to -4.39) (total number of participants = 21) respectively.