Patients with Crohn's disease may become zinc-deficient and, in such patients, an altered metabolism of radiolabelled long-chain fatty acids has been reported. We have investigated the possible reversal by zinc supplementation of altered long-chain fatty acid profiles of red cells in Crohn's disease. Twenty patients with long-standing Crohn's disease in clinical remission received 200 mg of zinc sulphate daily for 6 weeks. Phospholipid fatty acid profiles of washed red cells were analysed before and after zinc treatment and compared to those of 20 unsupplemented healthy controls.

Plasma zinc levels in Crohn's were 72 ± 8 μg/dL before zinc treatment and increased to 114 ± 10 μg/dl after the therapy. Prior to zinc supplementation, the percentage of palmitic, stearic and oleic acids was significantly higher in Crohn's disease, while linoleic, arachidonic and n-3 fatty acids were reduced in Crohn's disease compared to healthy controls. Zinc supplementation abolished these pre-treatment differences in red-cell long-chain fatty acid profiles but did not affect plasma fatty acid values. Further studies are needed to clarify whether these fatty acid changes can be related to the clinical course of the disease.