Diet may reduce malaria treatment side effects

Researchers from the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom found that adverse side effects from quinine, an anti-malaria drug, may be reduced by eating a specific diet.

The researchers found that patients with low levels of tryptophan, an amino acid, resulted in a higher risk of experiencing side effects. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that the body cannot produce, so the amino acid must be taken in through diet, Laboratory Equipment reports.

Quinine can result in a long list of side effects, including sickness, headaches, deafness, blindness and even death in rare cases. The study could point to a simple and inexpensive way to reduce the adverse reaction to quinine treatment.

The research was the natural extension of a 2009 study that found quinine blocked the take-up of tryptophan in a yeast model. The scientists thought that a combination of quinine and tryptophan could prevent quinine toxicity in cells, according to Laboratory Equipment.

"This new work with malaria patients shows that our earlier suggestions are largely borne out in the clinic," Simon Avery, a researcher on the project, said, according to Laboratory Equipment. "That is, natural variation in human levels of the amino acid tryptophan can have a marked bearing on patient responses to quinine therapy. One potential application stems from the fact that tryptophan levels can be modified by diet, possibly offering a cheap and simple way of manipulating adverse quinine responses in patients."

In 2010, approximately 216 million people contracted malaria worldwide and an estimated 655,000 people died as a result.