What happens to micronutrient levels in the hospital setting?

When atypical labs need to be obtained, many times this is easier in the hospital setting for logistical reasons including insurance and accessibility to specialty labs.  One group of labs that may be less suited for checking in the hospital, despite convenience, would be micronutrients.  Many of the micronutrients can be affected by systemic inflammatory response (Am J Clin Nutr 2012; 95: 64-71).  Thanks to Kipp Ellsworth for this reference (from his @PedNutritionGuy twitter feed).

Previous studies on systemic inflammatory response (SIR), as assessed by elevated C-reactive protein (CRP) concentrations, has shown that with elective surgery there are transient decreases in plasma concentrations of zinc, selenium, iron, vitamin A, vitamin E, carotenoids, riboflavin, vitamin B-6, vitamin C, and vitamin D.

This current study adds to this body of information.  Between 2001-2011, 2217 whole-blood samples were taken from 1303 patients. Specific micronutrients that were studied: plasma zinc, copper, selenium, vitamins A, B-6, C, and E.  For vitamin D, the authors examined 4327 samples from 3677 patients. The authors did not include manganese, thiamine or riboflavin because these are measured in erythrocytes.

For each analyte, the concentrations were separated according to 6 categories of CRP values: <5, 6-10, 11-20, 21-40, 41-80, and >80 mg/L.

Key finding: Except for copper and vitamin E, all plasma micronutrient concentrations decreased with increasing severity of acute inflammatory response.  For selenium, vitamin B-6, and vitamin C, this occurred with only slight increases in CRP (5 to 10 mg/L).

The magnitude of the SIR effect on micronutrients was quite variable among patients and analytes.  When CRP was >80 mg/L, analyte deficiency rate was noted to be the following:

  • 60 % for selenium (vs. 33% with NL CRP)
  • 48% for vitamin A (vs. 7% with NL CRP)
  • 35% for vitamin B-6 (vs. 14% with NL CRP)
  • 80% for vitamin C (vs. 33% with NL CRP)
  • 88% for vitamin D (vs. 69% with NL CRP)
  • 81% for zinc (vs. 33% with NL CRP)
  • 9% for copper (vs. 4% with NL CRP)
  • 16% for vitamin E (vs. 9% with NL CRP)

**The specific normal value cutoffs and more data at all CRP values are noted in Table 9 of the manuscript.

The implications from this study are clear.  When micronutrient values are derived from plasma during a SIR, a false-positive diagnosis of a micronutrient deficiency is more likely. The study has several limitations and the findings may not be applicable to all types of medical conditions.

Authors conclusion: When CRP concentration is >20 mg/L (>2 mg/dL), “plasma concentrations of selenium, zinc, and vitamins A, B-6, C, and D are clinically uninterpretable.”

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