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Excess dietary zinc worsens C. diff infection

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The way the importance of zinc is emphasized, it is likely that zinc supplementation is overdone in many cases. In a recent study that was published in the journal Nature Medicine, the adverse effect of the consumption of dietary supplements and cold therapies containing high concentrations of zinc has been highlighted.

Eric Skaar, Ph.D., MPH, professor of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology at Vanderbilt University remarked that it is important to understand that multivitamins and other supplements are really only needed by those with a particular nutritional deficit in their diet. So, one should be very vigilant about what they are putting into the body. The team of researchers which included Skaar’s colleague Joseph Zackular, Ph.D., discovered that high levels of zinc alter the micro biome of the gut. This change is such that it mimics antibiotic treatment, and that very much is the primary risk factor for C. diff infection.

This study doesn’t just highlight the concerns about multivitamin consumption, it also points out some vital findings that are of importance for patients who are hospitalized or taking antibiotics and who are also receiving zinc-supplemented nutrition. According to the findings of the study, such people are at an even greater risk for C. diff infection.

Skaar, who is also the Ernest W. Goodpasture Professor of Pathology opined that it is important to consider how much zinc these patients have in their diet “ and maybe other trace nutrients that might also have an effect on the micro biome. There is an increasing trend of C. diff infection in people in the United States who haven’t been hospitalized or treated with antibiotics. The findings of the study point towards a probable connection. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, C. diff infects about a half million people each year, in the United States, causing disease ranging from diarrhea to life-threatening inflammation of the colon (colitis).

Mouse models were used by Skaar and colleagues to explore the impact of dietary metals on susceptibility to infectious diseases. The researchers demonstrated that mice put on a high-zinc diet had altered gut micro biota and were susceptible to C. diff infection at lower antibiotic doses as compared to mice on a normal zinc diet. It was also noted that C. diff caused more severe disease and lethality in mice on a high-zinc diet.

Skaar explained that intake of antibiotics has a strong influence as it makes one susceptible to C. diff. Antibiotics kills many of the healthy organisms in the gut and decreases microbial diversity, which allows C. diff to take hold. A diet high in zinc changes the structure of the microbial community in a similar way and reduces the threshold of antibiotics that are needed to convert a resistant microbial community to one that is sensitive to C. diff.

In their research the investigators also found that calprotectin – which is a zinc-binding protein has an important role to play in combating C. diff. It works by limiting the availability of zinc during an infection. These findings also point to the fact that diet play a crucial role in maintaining the micro biome of the gut and also strongly suggests that just an ideal mix of microbes are not going to be sufficient to treat C. diff infections.

The process of fecal transplant has proven to be effective in treating recurrent C. diff colitis. In this method stool from a healthy donor is transferred to the gastrointestinal tract of a patient suffering from C. diff infection. This process prompted the use of a small number if microbes to treat C. diff. However, the first clinical trial failed recently.

Skaar Remarked that everyone’s micro biome is unique, and each micro biome is differentially affected by environmental factors, such as diet.

There is a need to first understand the factors that shape our micro biome. That knowledge will be instrumental in designing successful therapeutic strategies that target important community of microbes. The findings also have implications for the agriculture industry, which uses zinc supplementation to grow bigger animals, Skaar noted.