Preferred Sample Type


Suitable Specimen Types

  • Blood in Dark Blue Top Tube
25 μl serum/plasma

Sample Processing in Laboratory

Place in Trace Element rack in Send Away Fridge.

Sample Preparation

Separate without delay to avoid haemolysis

-Centrifuge and separate

For paediatric investigations, when the sample volume is limited, please collect blood into Sarstedt lithium heparin tubes (a minimum of 25 μl plasma is needed)

Turnaround Time

3 working days

Sample Stability

Avoid blood collection tubes using gel-separation systems, and tubes with caps sealed by a rubber O – ring for plasma/serum storage; these tubes may be contaminated with zinc.

Special trace elements tubes are recommended.



General Information

Zinc is an essential trace element, stored mainly in muscle. Most circulating zinc, some 80%, is present in the red cells. A similar proportion of plasma zinc is albumin bound. Most of the remaining plasma zinc is bound to alpha-2 macroglobin, although a small percentage is present as amino acid complexes.
Zinc is a component of many enzymes and other protein structures (eg the zinc finger, as in transcription activation factors). Thus zinc is crucial for normal growth and maturation; in malnourished children, the rate of recovery of lean body mass is related to dietary zinc intake. Zinc is regulated through its uptake by intestinal mucosa in processes depending on intracellular zinc binding proteins, the mechanisms of which are not fully understood. Significant interactions with other trace elements, especially iron and copper occur. Zinc supplementation can result in copper deficiency and vice versa; the efficiency of absorption of both zinc and iron depend on the ratio in which they are present.

Frank zinc deficiency was originally identified as the cause of anaemia, growth retardation and hypogonadism in deprived populations in the third world. Dramatic loss of zinc may occur during catabolic processes, following operations, or severe infections; acute zinc deficiency may then be precipitated as anabolic processes requiring zinc supervene. This has been well documented in patients on TPN with inadequate supplementation; the symptoms include a characteristic rash, abdominal pain and diarrhoea with depression and lethargy. Acrodermatitis enteropathica is a rare, autosomal, recessive inherited defect of zinc absorption, which presents with similar symptoms shortly after weaning. Lifelong therapy with large doses of zinc is effective. Zinc deficiency (and/or copper deficiency) may occur in premature infants prior to weaning, precipitated by interrupted feeding or increased requirements (such as an infection), when maternal milk concentrations of these elements are low. Premature infants are at risk because they have smaller accumulated stores at birth. The reversal of symptoms on treatment is dramatic. Many situations have been described in which plasma zinc is low and marginal deficiency has been postulated. The exact significance of the findings is not always clear, as plasma zinc is affected by many factors such as diet, diurnal variation, binding properties of albumin, acute phase response, steroid therapy, and pregnancy. Nevertheless, marginal zinc deficiency has been demonstrated in some situations and may be more widespread than is generally thought.

Laboratory Indices of Zinc Status
Serum zinc assay is the simplest means of assessing zinc status, but concentrations vary for many reasons unconnected with zinc nutriture.

1. There is a diurnal variation with peak values about 10.00 h.

2. Large fluctuations occur after meals and fasting leads to an increase.

3. Low values are found in pregnancy, in certain malignancies (e.g. leukaemia), in patients with renal failure, and when the serum albumin concentration is low.

4. In situations of stress or infection, the actions of interleukin and steroids stimulate entry of zinc into cells and increased production of caeruloplasmin by the liver. Measurement of CRP may be useful at time of sampling for zinc.The degree of any acute phase response expected should be borne in mind when interpreting low serum zinc concentrations; marginally low values are hard to interpret, but a concentration below 7 µmol/L indicates marked deficiency

When zinc deficiency is present, a relatively low serum alkaline phosphatase activity is indicative, since the enzyme contains zinc; blood ammonia may also be slightly increased. 

Zinc is a common element and precautions against contamination must always be maintained; collection tubes should be checked and kept covered; containers with metal or rubber closures or separating beads must be avoided, as should powder in gloves.

Taken from Trace Element Centres: Clinical and Analytical Handbook, Fourth Edition, 2006.

Patient Preparation


Reference Range


Zinc (ZN)


0 – 4 w


> 4 w to 18 years


19 – 64 years (female)


19 – 64 years (male)


> 65 years (female)


> 65 years (male)


(Source: SAS Trace Element Update, 2018)


  • EQA Scheme?: Yes
  • EQA Status:

    UK Guildford NEQAS Trace Elements Scheme

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