SUNDAY, MAY 20, 2018

Study suggests vitamin A may help guard against malaria

A recent study at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, released on Tuesday, suggests that children under 5 in sub-Saharan Africa are 54 percent less likely to develop malaria if given vitamin A.

The findings, published in the online journal eLife, said vitamin A can protect children against malaria parasites, especially if administered during the wet season, when malaria-infected mosquitoes are most active.

"More than half of the world's population is at risk of contracting malaria, and the disease is a leading killer of children in some parts of the world, so we urgently need to find better ways to combat it," Maria-Graciela Hollm-Delgado, the study leader and a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of International Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said. "Our research found that children who received vitamin A supplementation were less likely to become infected with malaria. Now we need to test vitamin A in a randomized controlled clinical trial to better understand whether this could really be an effective way to prevent this disease."

Hollm-Delgado and her research colleagues analyzed national survey data from Burkina Faso, Mozambique, Rwanda and Senegal on more than 6,100 children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years. Only 62 percent of the children in the study had received some form of a vitamin A supplement.

The researchers are uncertain why vitamin A would reduce the rate of malaria infection, but it’s conceivable that vitamin A, which is known to boost immunity and improve the ability to fight off infection, may help the body clear out the malaria parasite at a quicker rate.

Despite the well-documented link between vitamin A deficiency and blindness -- and even death -- Hollm-Delgado said the guidelines aren't as specific as they generally are for vaccinations and that this is why vitamin A supplementation is not as widespread as it should be.