Unlocking ways to monitor a key nutrient, Cornell research unveils a new method to test for zinc deficiency, a vital measurement that has posed problems for doctors and scientists. After iron, zinc is the most abundant trace mineral in human cells, playing a role in immunity, protein synthesis and wound healing. Dietary zinc deficiency affects one-quarter of the world’s population, so accurate and sensitive measurements are needed. Measuring the micronutrient is complex because cells efficiently export zinc, which can be toxic. The study, published March 20 in the journal Nutrients and led by first author Spenser Reed ’14, uses ratios between two red blood cell fatty acids. One of those fatty acids, linoleic acid, requires a zinc-dependent enzyme to produce the second fatty acid, dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid (DGLA). In other words, without zinc, DGLA doesn’t get made. By measuring the abundance of linoleic acid relative to DGLA, and vice versa – the ratio of linoleic acid to DGLA becomes higher as zinc deficiency increases – the researchers have identified a potentially sensitive biomarker for testing the body’s zinc status. “One of the major challenges is to find a parameter that can detect differences between mild zinc deficiency and severe zinc deficiency,
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