Evidence based on zinc supplementation has led HarvestPlus to posit whether zinc-biofortified foods could help alleviate the double burden of malnutrition from micronutrient deficiency and non-communicable diseases (NCDs). 

Diet-related NCDs, such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, are responsible for more deaths globally than any other conditions. Most of this burden falls on people living in low- and middle-income countries where there is a coincident high prevalence of zinc and other micronutrient deficiencies. The delivery of zinc to vulnerable populations via a food-based approach opens a new possibility to make much-needed ‘double duty’ progress tackling malnutrition.

HarvestPlus therefore convened a global group of experts in zinc and micronutrient nutrition, NCDs, public health, and plant sciences for three online sessions in August and September 2020 to review the evidence and opine about the plausibility of testing zinc biofortification as a double duty action.

The following conclusions summarize the experts’ opinion:

  1. Zinc in wheat and other staple food crops can be increased through biofortification and fortification to concentrations that can produce a measurable health effect.
  2. There are promising novel biomarkers of zinc status (including FADS1 and FADS2 activity, and LA:LDGA ratio) that should be measured in addition to serum or plasma zinc in intervention studies. 
  3. Added dietary zinc improves zinc status and indicators of the metabolism of carbohydrates and fatty acids; supplementation with zinc may reduce the incidence and severity of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
  4. Biofortification may be an efficacious food-based double duty action—a hypothesis worthy of exploration.

Based on these conclusions and the research design recommendations made during the consultation, HarvestPlus and research partners will pursue a randomized controlled trial to assess the potential benefits of fortified and biofortified zinc wheat on biomarkers of zinc status and type 2 diabetes in adults.

For additional details or to request a copy of the technical report of the consultation, email [email protected]