Diet Therapy for Malaria?

QUESTION:

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?

ANSWER:

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.

 

Comments

  1. Judith Standley says

    It is crucially important for children who are ill—including those sick with malaria—to continue to feed and to increase fluids.

    The US based Linkages project has developed a thorough fact sheet entitled Facts for Feeding (PDF).

    Age specific advice is as follows:

    During illness:

    For a child under 6 months old:
    —Breastfeed more frequently and longer at each feed

    For a child 6–24 months old:
    —Breastfeed more frequently and longer at each
    feed, increase fluid intake, and offer food
    —Give frequent, small feeds
    —Give nutrient-dense foods that are soft, varied, and
    the child’s favorite foods
    —Give mashed or soft foods if the child has trouble
    swallowing (do not dilute foods or milk)
    —Feed the child slowly and patiently; encourage
    the child to eat but do not force

    During recovery:

    • Increase the amount of food after illness until the
    child regains weight and is growing well
    • Continue to feed frequently: give an extra meal every
    day or snacks; be responsive to the recovering child’s
    increased hunger

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  2. Nickhath says

    It was very informative, and I liked your suggestions.Please name some liquids and solids which can be given in the form of vitamins to the child. My son is 4 years old and infected with malaria. His diet is very bad could you please help. Right now I am giving him rice patties only. I dont know if I can give him milk and fibre diet . Yes i am also giving apple juice.

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    • says

      It is very important for a child who is sick, whether with malaria or other illness, to continue eating and drinking, to keep them from losing weight and getting weaker. Lentils (dal) and rice is a good choice (not too spicy) as it is soft and includes protein. Basically children can eat most of what the family eats but when they are sick they may not want to eat so they will need encouragement.

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