Zinc, vitamin A pills show malaria benefits: study

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Immune system

Supplements of vitamin A and zinc may protect children from malaria, suggest results from a new randomized, double blind trial published this week.

Daily zinc supplements were combined with a single dose of vitamin A (200,000 IU) in children in Burkina Faso, and the prevalence of malaria found to be cut by 34 per cent, compared to only a 3.5 per cent reduction in the placebo group, scientists have reported in the open access Nutrition Journal​. "This study disclosed the key role of micronutrients in the reduction of children morbidity and mortality, liked to infectious diseases and malaria in particular,"​ wrote lead researcher Augustin Zeba. "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."​ There are approximately 300 to 500 million new cases of malaria each year across the globe, primarily due to Plasmodium falciparum​, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). The majority of cases occur in sub-Saharan Africa and result in the death of about one million children each year. Efforts to reduce these statistics have been hampered by emerging drug resistance and ineffective insecticides used for malaria control. In addition, the local population in malaria-infested areas are often malnourished and deficient in micronutrients such as vitamin A and zinc, which have serious health consequences. The researchers, from Institut de recherche en sciences de la santé (IRSS, Burkina Faso), Centre Muraz (Burkina Faso), Boston university school of public health, International atomic energy agency (Austria), recruited 148 children aged from six 72 months of age, and randomly assigned half of them to receive daily zinc supplements (10 mg) and a single 200 000 IU dose of vitamin A, or placebo, for six months. At the end of the study, Zeba and co-workers report that a significant reduction in the prevalence was observed in the supplemented group (34 per cent), compared to placebo (3.5 per cent). Moreover, a 30 per cent reduction in malaria episodes in the supplemented group, compared to placebo, while this group also experienced 22 percent fewer fever episodes than the placebo group, they added. "Because there were no groups of participants who received vitamin A or zinc alone in the present study, the study design precludes determining whether the reduction in malaria episodes was additive or multiplicative (i.e., synergistic),"​ wrote the researchers. They suggested that the benefits might be from the ability of the micronutrients to impact immune health. "It is known that vitamin A has immunopotentiating activities; zinc also is essential for normal immune function,"​ wrote Zeba. "Consequently, dual supplementation of these two micronutrients may lead to enhanced acquisition of immunity against​ falciparum malaria or to modified resistance to malaria episodes through a pathway at the cellular level.""A longer supplementation period might lead us to observe more important beneficial effects,"​ they added. "Ultimately, the more affordable and sustainable solution would be the incorporation of vitamin A and zinc in food fortification for children,"​ concluded the researchers. Note of caution ​ Commenting independently on the research, Dr Ron Behrens from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine told the BBC that zinc supplements have previously been reported to beneficially impact on cholera and respiratory disease. Behrens added a note of caution, however, stating that the benefits observed from the zinc-vitamin A combination may be limited to communities with specific nutritional deficiencies. Source: Nutrition Journal​2008 7​:7 "Major reduction of malaria morbidity with combined vitamin A and zinc supplementation in young children in Burkina Faso: a randomized double blind trial" ​Authors: A.N. Zeba, H. Sorgho, N. Rouamba, I. Zongo, J. Rouamba, R.T. Guiguemde, D.H. Hamer, N. Mokhtar, J.-B. Ouedraogo

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