Zinc supplementation has been shown to reduce the morbidity burden among young children, and may reduce chronic stress. Hair cortisol has been promoted as an indicator of chronic stress. We assessed the impact of different strategies for delivering supplementary zinc on hair cortisol concentrations (HCC) in young Laotian children and examined risk factors associated with HCC. In a randomized double-blind controlled trial (NCT02428647), children aged 6–23 mo were randomized to one of four intervention groups and followed for ~36 weeks: daily preventive zinc (PZ) tablets (7 mg/day), daily multiple micronutrient powder (MNP) sachets (containing 10 mg zinc and 14 other micronutrients), therapeutic zinc (TZ) supplements for diarrhea treatment (20 mg/day for 10 days) or daily placebo powder. HCC of 512 children was assessed at baseline and endline. ANCOVA and linear regression models were used to assess group differences in HCC and to examine the risk factors associated with HCC, respectively. At enrollment, mean HCC was 28.8 ± 43.9 pg/mg. In models adjusted for age at enrollment, health district, and baseline HCC there was no overall effect of the interventions on endline HCC and change in HCC. When controlling for additional predetermined covariates, there was a marginally significant effect on change in HCC (p = 0.075) with a slightly lower reduction of HCC in TZ compared to PZ (mean change (95% CI): −4.6 (−7.0; −2.3) vs. −9.4 (−11.7; −7.0) pg/mg; p = 0.053). At baseline, consumption of iron rich foods was negatively associated with HCC, whereas AGP (α1-acid glycoprotein) levels, elevated AGP and C-reactive protein and high soluble transferrin receptor were positively associated with HCC. In young Laotian children, MNP, PZ and TZ had no impact on HCC. The marginal difference in change in HCC between the PZ and TZ groups was too small to be considered of health significance.


Public Health and Sports Medicine

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© 2018 The authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).


Chronic stress, Hair cortisol, Lao PDR, Micronutrient powder, MNP, Young children, Zinc supplementation

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