If you're about to head off for a region where malaria is a problem, start taking vitamin A and zinc supplements now. Researchers have discovered that the supplements are very effective at warding off the disease - reducing the risk by a third - and without the nasty side effects of anti-malarial drugs.
While this is welcome news to the tourist, it's even better for the people who live in the regions of the world where malaria is endemic. In sub-Saharan Africa, it kills a million children every year.
Researchers discovered the protective powers of the two supplements while they were researching malaria in young children in Burkina Faso. Half the children were given a placebo while the rest were given the supplements. Within six months the rate of malaria among the supplemented children had fallen by 34 per cent. It even helped children who had already developed the disease. Those who were given supplements became more resistant and suffered fewer fever attacks.
Most of the children were malnourished, and researchers believe the supplements may have boosted their natural immune systems.
However, researchers warn about over-dosing on the supplements. In excess, vitamin A can be toxic, says Dr Ron Behrens from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical medicine, and can cause brain swelling. Zinc can affect the body's ability to process minerals such as copper and selenium.
(Source: Nutrition Journal, 2008; 7: 7).