Is there any tested and proven diet therapy for acute malaria? What food nutrients are essential for prevention of malaria? And what are their food sources?
Thanks for your question, Ekuma. I am not aware of any proven and scientifically tested diet therapy for acute malaria, apart from that which is recommended for all severe fevers, which is to hydrate regularly and thus increase intake of water and diluted juices. Some doctors advise to steer clear of solid food during the worst of the fever, but I am not sure whether this is actually to speed recovery or just because patients tend to lose their appetite during this phase anyway.
In terms of nutritional prevention of malaria, again I don’t think there are any dietary supplements as such which have been proven to prevent all malarial episodes. However, quinine is a natural chemical which has anti-malarial properties and so including quinine-rich foods in one’s diet may in this way reduce incidence of malaria. Tonic water is a good example of an everyday foodstuff which contains quinine; the soda known as “bitter lemon” likewise contains quinine, which is partially why both were popular with colonial expatriates living in malarial countries over the last hundred-odd years.
Finally, there are reports that grapefruit contains a quinine-like substance, and so might help prevent malaria or indeed increase recovery from malarial episodes, but I am not sure if this has been scientifically established as fact. There are a number of other plants, herbs and fruits which advocates of traditional, home remedies suggest may help prevent or treat malaria, but I can’t find ANY solid scientific basis for these claims, nor any reports of trials where these remedies have been shown to be effective.
Overall, the best thing to do if you think you have malaria is to get diagnosed (either at the doctor, a hospital or using a self-diagnosis kit) and then seek medical treatment. Local clinics will be able to tell you what kind of malaria you have, and therefore what treatment is recommended.
For prevention while in malarial areas, sleep under an insecticide treated bednet and try not to get bitten by mosquitoes. If you’re a visitor to a malarial zone, look into getting prophylaxis (preventative medicine) before you travel, and make sure the type of medication you are prescribed is appropriate to the types of malaria found in the regions to which you are going.
In terms of what malaria parasites themselves eat, they infect red blood cells in the human body and use the cells’ own hemoglobin (the protein we need to carry oxygen around our bodies) for energy. This why one of the reasons why malaria sufferers can become anemic; as such, it is important to maintain iron levels after a malarial attack, to prevent any further side effects of the infection.