Warring Against Malaria With Dietary Supplements

by Medindia Content Team on  February 7, 2008 at 3:39 PM Tropical Disease News
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Warring Against Malaria With Dietary Supplements
According to new research, dietary supplements could keep malaria at bay, in young children.

The study, documented in Nutrition Journal, says that giving children vitamin A and zinc can cut incidences of the illness by a third.

To date, malaria remains a major killer in many parts of the world. It causes about a million child deaths a year, in sub-Saharan Africa.

Resistance to drug treatments is now a mounting problem faced by health specialists.  Efforts to kill the infected mosquitoes that spread the disease have also been impeded by the use of ineffective insecticides.

Many people living in malaria endemic areas are known to suffer from malnutrition. Researchers in Burkina Faso experimented with adding vitamin A and zinc supplements to the diets of children aged from six months to six years.

In the study, half of the children were given a placebo. After six months the scientists recorded a 34 percent decrease in incidence of malaria in the children who took supplements.

Among those children who did catch the illness, those taking supplements were found to be more resistant to the disease and suffered fewer fever episodes.

The researchers, from Institut de Recherche en Sciences de la Sante, suggest that the combination of supplements boosted the children's immune system. This also made them  more naturally resistant to malaria, they say. 

The scientists believe the supplements could be an effective long term strategy to reduce the impact of malaria.

Dr Ron Behrens, an expert in tropical diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine,  agrees that zinc supplementation  has a positive impact on respiratory disease and cholera.

At the same time , he says that  use of supplements might only work in communities with specific nutritional deficiencies - and those deficiencies might only exist at certain times of year.

For instance, he says  vitamin A deficiency is  a problem in West Africa during the rainy season, but not when palm oil is  in plentiful supply.

Dr Behrens  has also warned that too much zinc could have a negative impact on the body's ability to make use of other minerals, such as copper and selenium.

Too much of Vitamin A has  been shown to be toxic, he says , bringing about brain swelling and other complications.

"Neither of these micro-nutrients is totally safe. They should be used like pharmaceuticals, and not seen as cure alls,"  this expert  opines.

Source: Medindia

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