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Vitamin A and Zinc Provide Resistance to Malaria

Tuesday, June 10, 2008 by: John Cole
Tags: malaria, health news, Natural News

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(NewsTarget) Malaria currently kills more people daily than AIDS, and kills more than one million children yearly. However, very little attention is paid to malaria since it is not a disease prevalent in the developed countries.

Malaria is caused by protozoan parasites of the genus Plasmodium, which are introduced into a person's bloodstream from the "bite" of a mosquito. Plasmodium falciparum is the most frequent cause of infection, and results in the most severe type of malaria. Drugs once successful in treatment and prevention of malaria are increasingly facing drug resistance from the evolving parasites. However, the immune response of the infected person is known to affect the degree of illness suffered: "The degree of natural and acquired immunity of the patient can influence the clinical course dramatically." (http://www.answers.com/malaria?cat=health)

The Current Study

The authors of the study observed that most children and adults living in areas where malaria is prevalent have generally poor nutrition. They suspected that a lack of micronutrients, like zinc and vitamin A, which are necessary for healthy immune function, might be putting people at a greater risk of getting severely ill from malaria.

Zinc is necessary for a myriad of biological functions including protein synthesis, which plays a major role in immunity. Vitamin A is also necessary for proper immune function. Vitamin A metabolism depends on sufficient zinc, and their deficiencies are often associated; some authors believe them to be synergistic. Previous studies had reported beneficial effects from individual supplementation of vitamin A and zinc.

To test whether vitamin A and zinc administered together would be effective in preventing or reducing illness from malaria, the authors planned a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. The location was Burkina Faso, a small country in western Africa where malaria due to Plasmodium falciparum is endemic.

One hundred fifty infants and young children from 6 to 72 months of age were enrolled in the study. Half were given a single 200,000 IU dose of vitamin A, plus 10mg of zinc six days a week for six months, while the other half were given placebos. Data were taken at the start and at the end of the study.

At the end of the test period, the protective effects of zinc plus vitamin A were seen in several different results.

1. The prevalence of malaria had decreased significantly in the supplemented group compared to the placebo group (34% decrease vs. 3.5% decrease).

2. The mean parasite density was lower in the vitamin A + zinc group.

3. The proportion of children with anemia, compared at the start of the study and at the end of the study, showed a significant decrease in the supplemented group, with no change in the placebo group.

4. The number of occurrences of fever was lower in the vitamin A + zinc group.

Although the children receiving the supplements were still exposed to mosquitoes and the Plasmodium parasite, and some still became severely ill, the study shows that vitamin A + zinc significantly reduced the incidence of disease and level of illness. The authors state, "Our results suggest that combined supplementation with vitamin A and zinc may effectively reduce malaria-associated morbidity, and thus may play an important role in malaria control strategies in African children."

The study was conducted by researchers in Burkina Faso, from the Boston University School of Public Health, and from the International Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna, Austria. It was published in the journal Nutrition Journal.

Personal Comment: I believe that further studies may show that individuals with excellent nutrition and strong, well-balanced immune systems are "immune" to malaria, much like some people who are exposed to the common cold virus, influenza virus, and parasites like Entamoeba histolytica are able to avoid illness even though they are exposed to/invaded by pathogens.

About the author

John H. Cole has been editing medical manuscripts for publication in mainstream U.S. and European medical journals for the past 15 years in Japan. He also has a small English school in Gifu City, Japan. He believes that natural foods, superfoods, herbs, exercise, sunshine, good sleep, and avoidance of pollution are the answers to most people's health problems. He is a friend of nature.

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