Patients with liver disease may be at risk of zinc depletion. We measured polymorphonuclear cell, mononuclear cell, plasma, and erythrocyte zinc values, and erythrocyte carbonic anhydrase activity to assess zinc status in 17 patients with non-alcoholic liver disease (primary biliary cirrhosis and chronic active hepatitis) and 13 patients with alcoholic liver disease. The plasma zinc concentration was reduced in both patient groups and correlated strongly with the plasma albumin concentration. The mean polymorphonuclear cell zinc value in both groups was similar to that of controls but when results were combined and grouped according to hepatic functional reserve, patients with more severe liver damage (grade C) had a lower polymorphonuclear cell zinc value (mean (SD) 0.86 (0.24) nmol/mg protein) than patients with grade A (1.44 (0.43) nmol/mg protein, p less than 0.01) or grade B liver damage (1.08 (0.30) nmol/mg protein, p less than 0.05), or control subjects (1.26 (0.28) nmol/mg protein, p less than 0.001). The polymorphonuclear cell zinc value did not correlate with other indices of zinc status. The mononuclear cell zinc value was normal in all patients and was unrelated to hepatic damage. The erythrocyte zinc value and carbonic anhydrase activity were raised in alcoholic patients only. Since the polymorphonuclear cell zinc concentration is low in human experimental zinc deficiency and also correlates with tissue zinc, we suggest that our results provide evidence of progressive leucocyte zinc depletion in patients with liver disease.
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