Zinc doesn't protect from malaria, study says

A new study shows that supplementing young children with zinc, either alone or with other nutrients, does not help protect them from the effects of malaria.

Previous studies have shown zinc helps in the reduction of diarrhea and it is known to help maintain a healthy immune system. The authors of the study, researchers from Wageningen University in the Netherlands and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, hoped to find a possible link between the mineral and protection from the mosquito-borne illness.

The study looked at 612 children from a rural area in Tanzania between the ages of six months and five years. The children received a daily oral supplement that contained zinc alone, multi-nutrients without zinc, multi-nutrients with zinc or a placebo.

In all of the groups, the incidence of malaria was similar over the course of a year. None of the supplements had any effect on malaria rates when compared to a placebo. In further analysis, the scientists discovered that the multi-nutrient supplement might have been harmful to children with low iron levels.

"Despite a high prevalence of zinc deficiency, excellent compliance, and few drop-outs, we found no evidence from this trial that preventive zinc supplementation, alone or with multi-nutrients, reduced rates of febrile attacks of malaria," the authors said.

The study appears in the journal PLoS Medicine.