Disorders of Metal Absorption

What are disorders of metal absorption?

There are many types of disorders of metal absorption. The causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of each vary.

Zinc deficiency is characterized by skin lesions, diarrhea, slow growth and increased risk of infection. There is a genetic disorder of zinc metabolism called acrodermatitis enteropathica that can lead to severe zinc deficiency. Children with short bowel syndrome are also at risk for zinc deficiency.

Copper deficiency can lead to anemia, slow growth and bone disease. Foods high in copper include shellfish, meat, nuts and cheese. Menkes syndrome is a genetic disorder of copper metabolism and leads to steely hair, anemia and brain problems.

Selenium deficiency can lead to heart problems. Foods high in selenium are seafood, meat and whole grains.

Chromium deficiency can cause glucose problems because it is a cofactor for insulin. Chromium deficiency can be seen in children on long-term parenteral nutrition. 

Iodine deficiency is caused by a lack of iodine in the diet. Iodine is needed to make thyroid hormones. Iodine deficiency can lead to impaired mental function and developmental delays, as well as the development of a goiter, which is a mass on the neck. This is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the world, but not as common in the United States because of the availability of iodized salt. Iodine can be found in iodized salt, saltwater fish and dairy products.

Diagnosis and treatment

At The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, children with disorders of metal absorption are diagnosed and treated by doctors in the Division of Gastroenterology (GI), Hepatology and Nutrition.


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