Introduction: University, Jordan. The ethical committee approved the


Zinc is
a trace element essential to countless metabolic pathways and cellular
functions of the body. It is involved in protein and nucleic acid synthesis, it
also plays a role in immune function, wound healing, DNA synthesis and cell division.(1,2)
Due to the importance of these functions a deficiency of zinc poses a major
health problem worldwide.(3) Zinc deficiency can
occur from a lack of adequate dietary intake, decreased intestinal absorption, as
well as increased losses in the gastrointestinal tract, urine, and sweat.(4)
Zinc deficiency has been noted to occur in patients with
malabsorption syndromes, chronic renal disease, cirrhosis of the liver, sickle
cell disease, and in patients with malnutrition, alcoholism, and inflammatory
bowel disease.(5)

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The skin
has the third highest abundance of zinc of any organ in the body. The
epidermis has a higher concentration of zinc than the dermis, owing to
a zinc requirement for the active proliferation and differentiation
of epidermal keratinocytes.(6) Zinc has been shown to inhibit hair
follicle regression, and help in accelerating hair follicle recovery.(7)
Cutaneous manifestations typically occur in moderate to severe
zinc deficiency and present as alopecia and dermatitis in
the perioral, acral, and perineal regions.(8)

arguing that zinc deficiency can negatively affect the growth of hair in adults
have been emerging since the 1990s, with even a few studies having reported
that zinc deficiency has correlations with alopecia areata and telogen
effluvium.(9) Little is known about zinc deficiency and hair loss in
children in contrast to adults. In 1985 Collipp, P J, et al. investigated the
association between zinc levels in the hair of normal infants with
scalp hair quantity and the presence of a diaper rash. The study
indicated that hair loss and diaper rash in normal infants are
significantly associated with a reduction in hair zinc concentration.(10)
Another case reported progressive diffuse hair
loss with hair dryness and brittleness due to a deficiency in
dietary zinc.(11) However, an association between serum zinc levels and
hair loss has not been well studied in the pediatric population. Therefore, the
aim of this study is to assess serum zinc levels in children with hair loss and
to find characteristics that predict particularly low zinc levels.

Materials and methods:


This was
an out-patient clinic based prospective observational study done in pediatrics
and dermatology clinics in Al-Karak teaching hospital affiliated with Mutah
University, Jordan. The ethical committee approved the study protocol. Informed
consent from the patients’ parents was obtained prior to enrolment in the

protocol was developed and implemented to collect the data of all pediatric
patients who were seen at the pediatrics and dermatology clinics from January
2014 to January 2017. All patients who were complaining of hair loss (partial
or diffuse), change in hair texture, regression of hair growth, or who were
found to have hair loss or scalp disorders on physical examination, as well as
having confirmed low serum zinc levels were included in this study. Patients
with normal hair, normal serum zinc levels, or were taking multivitamin
supplementations were excluded from the study. The total number of patients
screened was 5200 (2800 in dermatology clinics and 2400 in pediatrics clinics).

taking and physical exam methodology:

detailed history was taken regarding hair symptoms including; the type of hair
loss (partial or diffuse), scalp symptoms, changes in hair texture and the
growth of hair. In addition, a history of any hair changes in other parts of
the body including the eyebrows or eyelashes was taken. The way patients
presented themselves to their physician was classified into three groups. Group
1 was defined as those who complained of hair loss as their primary concern,
group 2 was defined as those who complained of hair loss as a secondary concern
alongside another more significant concern to them, and group 3 was defined as
those who did not complain of hair loss. In addition, a detailed history was
taken about hair grooming/habit tics, nail changes, other cutaneous changes,
systemic diseases (e.g. cystic fibrosis, celiac disease, cow milk allergy, and
enteritis), family history of similar conditions or autoimmune disease, and
drug history. Economic status was assessed by the family income per capita, and
was classified according to the World Bank new data on July 1, 2017, as high,
upper-middle, lower-middle, or low income. Dietary history was also taken, and focused mainly on picky
eating behavior that excluded animal products (e.g. meat, poultry, and fish) as
well as having a lower diversity of food. Patients that showed signs of picky
eating at around the ages of 2 to 3 years were considered to have early-onset
picky eating, whereas patients that started at about 4.5-5.5 years were
considered to have late-onset picky eating. Patients who started off in the
early-onset picky eating category and continued to have picky eating behavior
were considered to be persistent picky eaters.(12).{ Macro- and micronutrient intakes in
picky eaters}

examination included the skin of the scalp (presence of erythema, scales, and
follicular plugging). Hair examination included the recording of hair color,
texture, fragility, and examination of the hair root. In addition to the scalp,
other hairy sites were examined for hair loss (including eyebrows and eyelashes).
Nails and teeth were also examined for any abnormalities.

measures assessed included weight for height, height for age, and weight for
age. The values for each nutritional index were converted into Z scores
(Standard deviations) using the data provided by the 2000 CDC growth charts.(13)
Z scores between +1 and -1 were considered normal, between -1 and -2 low,
and below -2 very low.


zinc concentration in the patients’ serum was measured using an automated
chemistry analyzer (Biosystem BT-350 module, Spain) according to the
manufacturer protocol (is the manufacturer protocol
related to the method of measuring zinc, or related to the definition of low
zinc levels? I guessed the former), low zinc level was defined by serum
zinc less than 70 µg/dL. Hemoglobin, ferritin, and vitamin D levels were also
obtained to assess nutritional status. Anemia was defined as a hemoglobin level
less than 11 g/dL. Ferritin was considered to be deficient when below 12 ng/mL
for children less than 5 years of age and below 15 ng/mL for those above 5
years. Vitamin D was considered to be deficient when below 25 nmol/L.(14)

investigations carried out included a sweat chloride test for cystic fibrosis, as
well as a Tissue Transglutaminase antibody IgA screen for celiac disease. These
tests were performed in some cases to further confirm the presence of systemic
diseases. Blood tests for thyroid function, antinuclear antibody, and other auto
antibodies were also performed where necessary in
some cases.


In this
study four main statistical tests were used. Namely, the independent Student’s
T-test, the ANOVA, the Pearson Chi-Square test, and the Fisher exact test. The Student’s
T-test and the ANOVA were used to analyze the mean zinc levels. The Chi-Square
test was used to find an association between two categorical variables. The Fisher
exact test was used when a Chi-Square test was not a viable option.

tolerated maximum probability of a type 1 error in this study was 0.05 (i.e. ?
= 0.05). Any P-value below 0.05 is considered to be statistically significant. SPSS
V. 21.0 software was used for the statistical analysis in this study.


Of the
5200 cases screened, 401 cases had hair loss. Of those with hair loss 162 had
zinc deficiency. Therefore, the prevalence of zinc deficiency in this pediatric
population with hair loss was 40.4%. Figure x demonstrates
the distribution of patients in detail.

the 162 patients analyzed in this study, 61% were female and 39% male. The age
ranged from 1 month to 14 years with a mean of 4.8 ± 3.1 years. When categorizing the patients based on how they
presented to the physician 21.6% were within group 1, 32.1% were within group
2, and 46.3% were within group 3. On physical examination 31.5% had diffuse
hair loss, 14.2% had patchy hair loss, 58% had a scaly scalp, 95.1% had hair
texture or color changes, and 30.2% had other skin manifestations.

7.4% had
an underlying systemic illness. 51.5% had no family history of hair loss. 10.5%
had a family history pertaining to the mother only, 25.9% to a sibling, and
12.3% the mother and a sibling. According to the World Bank organization
classification 4.9% had a low household income, 59.9% had a lower-middle
household income, 33.3% had an upper-middle household income, and 1.9% had a
high household income. 42.6% had a low or very low weight to age z score, 29%
had a low or very low height to age z score, 48.8% had a low or very low weight
to height z score.

The mean
zinc level was 51.3 ± 11.2 ?g/dL. Table x
summarizes the factors associated with differences in mean zinc levels. There
was no statistically significant difference between the mean zinc level in
males and females, or between the age groups. Although the sex of the patient
had no significant association with zinc levels when looking at the patient
sample overall, when looking only at patients who complained primarily of hair
loss (i.e. Group 1), it was found that males had a significantly lower mean
zinc level than females. Furthermore, females were almost 5 times more likely
to complain primarily of hair loss than males (P<0.001). Ferritin deficiency was not associated with a lower mean zinc level. However, both anemic and vitamin D deficient patients were associated with a lower mean zinc level than normal patients. Interestingly, the presence or absence of either anemia or vitamin D deficiency was not correlated with how the patient presented themselves to the physician with hair loss (P=0.140 for anemia, and P=0.584 for vitamin D). Patients who were aware of their hair loss (Groups 1 and 2) had a significantly lower mean zinc level than patients who were not (group 3). The presence of diffuse hair loss, patchy hair loss, a scaly scalp, hair texture or color changes, or skin manifestations were all associated with a lower mean zinc level. Patients with lower weight for age z scores, height for age z scores, and weight for height z scores were associated with a lower mean zinc level. The presence of a family history of hair loss was associated with a decreased mean zinc level. Furthermore, there was no major difference between mean zinc levels in the four different family income categories. The majority of this study population (92.6%) did not have any systemic diseases, their zinc deficiency and hair loss was most likely due to dietary problems. Of the 162 patients in this study, 137 have been grouped based on their diet. The other 25 were too young to be classified, 24.1% of those that were grouped were early picky eaters, 32.1% were late picky eaters, 16.8% were persistent picky eaters and 27% were never picky eaters. Persistent picky eaters had the lowest zinc level (38.7 ?g/dL), followed by early picky eaters (46.0 ?g/dL), late picky eaters (55.4 ?g/dL), and then finally those who were never picky eaters (61.8 ?g/dL) (P<0.001, F=65.4) (Move this p-value to table? Move the mean values also to table? – avoid repeating info). Patients who were found to have an underlying systemic illness had a statistically significant lower mean zinc level than those who did not (36.6 and 52.5 ?g/dL respectively, P<0.001, T=5.1) (Move this to table?). Of the 13cases with underlying systemic diseases, 11 cases had diseases that are known causes of zinc deficiency and presented with hair loss along with another major complaint (is this what you meant?). Among them three cases had celiac disease (Mean zinc: 31.6 ?g/dL), three cases had cystic fibrosis (27?g/dL), four cases had cow milk allergy (31.6 ?g/dL), a single case had congenital hypotherodism (zinc level?) and another single case had hereditary acrodermatitis enteropathica (zinc level?) (3+3+4+1+1 = 12 cases, not 11 or 13?). Discussion: Zinc can be a cofactor for almost every known subtype of human enzyme, hence its deficiency has a very wide range of presentations, which can cause a delay in diagnosis and lead to progression to a more severe and dangerous deficiency.(1,5) Untreated severe zinc deficiency can be a potentially fatal disease process.(5,15) The manifestations of severe zinc deficiency include bullous pustular dermatitis, alopecia, diarrhea, emotional disorders, weight loss, recurrent infections, hypogonadism in males, neurosensory disorders, and problems with the healing of ulcers.(15) Being able to recognize a likely case of zinc deficiency and estimate the severity of this deficiency using mainly clinical information can be invaluable in avoiding many more complications. The prevalence of zinc was high in pediatric patients with hair loss (40.4%), indicating that zinc deficiency is not only an important cause of hair loss in adults, but is a problem in children as well and should be considered as part of the differential diagnosis. In this study it was found that if patients were aware of their hair loss and complain about it (either as a primary complaint or a secondary complaint), they are more likely to have a lower zinc level than those who were only found to have hair loss on physical examination. Patchy hair loss seems to be the sign with the lowest associated zinc level. Diffuse hair loss, hair texture and color changes, a scaly scalp, and skin manifestations also predict low zinc levels. The presence of anemia or vitamin D deficiency lowered the likely mean zinc level to be found. This could mean that the presence of anemia and vitamin D deficiency are hints towards a nutritional defect that also happens to cause zinc deficiency. Interestingly, although iron nutritional sources overlap significantly with zinc sources,(16, 17) low ferritin did not have a statistically significant correlation with lower zinc levels. This was probably due to a small number of patients in this study who did not have ferritin deficiency; a larger sample size would be useful to reach a conclusion regarding ferritin. Of note, neither anemic patients nor vitamin D deficient patients had an increased likelihood to present with hair loss as a primary complaint. Both sex and age were poor predictors of zinc levels when looking at the whole patient sample. However, it seems that when males complain of hair loss primarily they have a much more severe zinc deficiency than their female counterparts who have the same complaint. Females were almost 5 times more likely to complain of hair loss as their primary complaint than males. One possible explanation could be that parents have a higher cosmetic concern for females, and so males present later with a more severe deficiency as well as other non-hair related symptoms. Height-for-age is an important functional indicator that has been found in previous studies to help establish the nutritional status of zinc deficiency.(18) In this study, a low or very low weight for age z score, height for age z score, weight for height z score, all predicted lower serum zinc levels than people with normal z scores. The presence of a family history or an underlying illness also predicted lower serum zinc levels. The family income of the patient did not predict serum zinc levels.   Dietary inadequacies may arise from low dietary zinc intake or poor absorption of dietary zinc.(19) In low-income countries diets are predominantly plant-based foods, especially cereals that are known to have a high phytate content, which inhibits the absorption of zinc. Young children have been shown to have a great risk of zinc deficiency, which is likely due to their increased dietary zinc requirements needed to sustain their growth.(20) Because there is no functional reserve or body store of zinc, except possibly in infants(21), a relatively continuous adequate dietary supply is required. Most of the patients in this study (92.6%) had hair loss due to zinc deficiency associated with dietary problems rather than underlying diseases. The serum zinc deficiency and hair loss in patients with dietary problems were less severe and progressed slower in comparison to patients with underlying diseases. This provides the conclusion that mild to moderate zinc deficiency is common in low-resource settings.   Picky eaters were associated with reduced consumption of whole-grain products, fish, seafood, meat, and unsweetened cereals and an increased consumption of savory snacks, confectionary cereals and French fries compared to non-picky eaters.(22,23) Based on this fact, we can argue that such low diversity of food in picky eaters can increase the risk of zinc deficiency which may be attributed to their hair loss. In this study persistent picky eaters had the lowest zinc level among all type of picky eaters. Moreover, the picky eating behavior was likely associated with how a patient presents (?2 = 21.71, P=0.001), patients who were never picky eaters were less likely to complain of hair loss, in comparison to patients who had some sort of picky eating. Persistent picky eating especially was the most likely to have hair loss complaints on presentation.   Acrodermatitis enteropathica is one of the severest forms of human zinc deficiency, although the total body zinc is not greatly reduced, the serum zinc concentrations are typically extremely low (e.g. <30 ?g/dL.(24) This is an example of a genetic hair disorder caused by nutritional zinc deficiency(25). Other examples of poor absorption of dietary zinc are celiac disease and cystic fibrosis.  The presentation of infants and young children with celiac disease overlaps with several of the features of zinc deficiency: anorexia, diarrhea, and short stature.(25, 26) Zinc deficiency has been documented in young infants identified by newborn screening prior to initiation of pancreatic enzyme therapy.(26, 27)  In settings without newborn screening, presentation is typically later in infancy, with associated growth faltering, diarrhea, and dermatitis similar to Acrodermatitis enteropathica.(27,28) The zinc deficiency in these two diseases may be attributed to patients hair loss (not sure what this means, I think you mean the opposite hair loss attributed to zinc deficiency. And the two diseases are cystic fibrosis and celiac?). The new finding in this study regarding systemic diseases was the presentation of hair loss in patients with cow milk allergy; it may be argued that zinc deficiency due to chronic enteritis may augment hair loss beside their skin manifestation (May cause/increase hair loss as well as other skin manifestations?).   In this study, systemic diseases were not a very common cause of zinc deficiency associated hair loss. However, their symptoms were more obvious, particularly alopecia, and their zinc deficiency was more severe.  Interestingly, the most severely affected patient was a two month old underweight baby with acrodermatitis enteropathica complicated with severe failure to thrive and hair loss that included almost the whole scalp with a serum zinc level of 25 ?g/dL. The patient had a positive clinical progression after zinc supplementation; the skin lesions and alopecia disappeared when the serum zinc level was raised above 60 ?g/dL.   Hypothyroidism is a well-known cause of hair loss. However, zinc and other trace elements are required for the synthesis of thyroid hormones, and so zinc deficiency can result in hypothyroidism, which can be masked in children. Furthermore, hypothyroidism can result in further zinc deficiency as thyroid hormones are essential for the absorption of zinc. Zinc supplements have been shown to improve hair loss attributed to hypothyroidism. (29) Mention the hypothyroidism case(s) here? It has been reported that severe zinc deficiency associated with a severe type of hair loss was treated with zinc supplementation for 6 months as well as improving the patient's diet.(11) In this study similar findings were also found. All patients with zinc deficiency were started on zinc supplementation in a dose of (0.5-1mg) per day for 3-6 months, in addition to modifying their diets. The hair loss stopped in 6-8weeks,  and follow up in after a few months showed no evidence of alopecia with normal looking hair, except in the patient caused by hereditary acrodermatitis enteropathica and the patients with cystic fibrosis who were severely affected and needed higher dose and longer duration of treatment. Interestingly, there is some evidence to support that blind treatment with zinc supplements for hair loss without documenting the actual low serum zinc level may exacerbate the hair loss and are not recommended in the absence of a proven deficiency.(30) In summary, there are many predictive factors for the severity of zinc deficiency in pediatric patients with hair related symptoms or signs. Patchy hair loss, very low body weight for age, persistent picky eating and the presence of an underlying illness such as celiac disease and cystic fibrosis seem to be the four characteristics associated with the lowest mean zinc levels. Further studies to examine the usefulness of the clinical assessment of hair loss and skin manifestations to directly predict zinc deficiency related complications such as recurrent infections would be extremely useful to clinicians. 


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