Zinc in wound healing: Theoretical, experimental, and clinical aspects


Reprint requests:
Dr. Magnus S. Ågren, Department of Surgery K, Bispebjerg Hospital, Bispebjerg Bakke 23, DK-2400 Copenhagen, Denmark.
Tel: +45-3531 6493;
Fax: +45-3531 3911;
Email: maa02@bbh.hosp.dk


Zinc is an essential trace element in the human body and its importance in health and disease is appreciated. It serves as a cofactor in numerous transcription factors and enzyme systems including zinc-dependent matrix metalloproteinases that augment autodebridement and keratinocyte migration during wound repair. Zinc confers resistance to epithelial apoptosis through cytoprotection against reactive oxygen species and bacterial toxins possibly through antioxidant activity of the cysteine-rich metallothioneins. Zinc deficiency of hereditary or dietary cause can lead to pathological changes and delayed wound healing. Oral zinc supplementation may be beneficial in treating zinc-deficient leg ulcer patients, but its therapeutic place in surgical patients needs further clarification. Topical administration of zinc appears to be superior to oral therapy due to its action in reducing superinfections and necrotic material via enhanced local defense systems and collagenolytic activity, and the sustained release of zinc ions that stimulates epithelialization of wounds in normozincemic individuals. Zinc oxide in paste bandages (Unna boot) protects and soothes inflamed peri-ulcer skin. Zinc is transported through the skin from these formulations, although the systemic effects seem insignificant. We present here the first comprehensive account of zinc in wound management in relation to current concepts of wound bed preparation and the wound-healing cascade. This review article suggests that topical zinc therapy is underappreciated even though clinical evidence emphasizes its importance in autodebridement, anti-infective action, and promotion of epithelialization.