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SAMJ: South African Medical Journal

On-line version ISSN 2078-5135
Print version ISSN 0256-9574


GRAY, N A; ESTERHUIZEN, T M; KHUMALO, N P  and  STEIN, D J. Investigating hair zinc concentrations in children with and without atopic dermatitis. SAMJ, S. Afr. med. j. [online]. 2020, vol.110, n.5, pp.409-415. ISSN 2078-5135.

BACKGROUND. Atopic dermatitis (AD) is a common chronic inflammatory skin condition that disproportionately affects children and is associated with reduced quality of life. Zinc deficiency may contribute to the pathogenesis of AD because zinc plays a role in epidermal barrier integrity and the immune system. Systematic review evidence suggests that low zinc is associated with AD, but limitations of included studies support further investigation.OBJECTIVES. To investigate hair zinc concentrations in children with AD v. healthy controls in a low- to middle-income country setting.METHODS. One hundred and five children aged 1-12 years participated in a frequency-matched for age case-control study. The outcome variable, AD, was confirmed by a clinician and corroborated using the UK Working Party criteria. The primary predictor, long-term average zinc concentration, was determined by measuring hair zinc using inductively coupled mass spectrometry. Baseline demographic characteristics, anthropometry and measures of socioeconomic status were included in our logistic regression analysis. Subgroup analysis was performed where interaction terms suggested effect modification.RESULTS. Using data from the overall sample, population median hair zinc was not significantly different between children with AD and healthy controls. However, subgroup analysis suggested a clinically and statistically significant difference in median zinc between children with AD (175.35 µg/g) and healthy controls (206.4 (µg/g) in the older age group (5 - 12 years) (p=0.01). In this age group, multivariable logistic regression analysis also found significantly decreased hair zinc concentrations in AD (odds ratio 0.83; 95% confidence interval 0.66 - 0.96; p=0.046).CONCLUSIONS. The inverse association between zinc status and AD in children aged 5-12 years in our setting is consistent with the international literature. The clinical importance of decreased zinc levels in AD is not yet known. Further investigation into relevant underlying mechanisms seems warranted given the global reach of AD, its effect on quality of life, and the low cost of potential zinc-based interventions.

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