Abnormal zinc content in human milk: Risk for development of nutritional zinc deficiency in infants

S. A. Atkinson, D. Whelan, R. K. Whyte, B. Lonnerdal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


An abnormally low concentration of zinc in mother's milk has been associated with clinical nutritional zinc deficiency in premature and term newborns. Defective mammary gland secretion of zinc was suggested as the causative factor. We investigated whether low milk zinc concentration might be reflected in an abnormality of the distribution of zinc between casein, whey, and fat components of the milk, in a reduction in the levels of milk citrate, a zinc-binding ligand, or in abnormal levels of copper and iron. Milk from mothers of four low-birth-weight infants was identified as being deficient in zinc content for the lactational stage. One infant had clinical signs of nutritional zinc deficiency. For two of the three infants with subclinical deficiencies in whom balance study data were available, the apparent zinc balance was negative (-5.7 and -6.0 μmol/kg per day). These milks were examined for content and distribution of zinc, copper, and iron, and citrate concentration. Although total zinc concentration (4.5 to 17.2 μmol/L) was below the 95% prediction interval (15.2 to 59.7 μmol/L) for the lactational stage, the distribution of zinc was normal between milk components. Levels of citrate (1.46 to 5.13 mmol/L) were also within normal limits, as were levels of copper (0.27 to 0.85 μmol/L and iron (0.41 to 1.13 μmol/L). We concluded that there was no indirect evidence of a secretory abnormality in milk zinc deficiency, but speculated that there might instead be an abnormality of zinc uptake by the mammary gland from the plasma.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)608-611
Number of pages4
JournalAmerican Journal of Diseases of Children
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1989

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


Dive into the research topics of 'Abnormal zinc content in human milk: Risk for development of nutritional zinc deficiency in infants'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this