Nutrients’ Strategic Functions in Preventing Tropical Diseases sounds as a prerequisite to create an organized code of micro - and macronutrients with a proper diet that should be applied to children in developing countries to decrease the risk of infections and tropical diseases...

By Adrian Boruch

Project Manager, ALVO Medical, Poland

The Strategic Functions of Nutrients in Preventing Tropical Diseases


The aim of this article is to discuss the relationship between decreased macro- and micronutrient intake and tropical diseases with a special focus on malaria illness. As the authors of the books and publications that I refer to in my arcticle claim, an essential prerequisite to the prevention of malnutrition in a community is the availability of food for the nutritional needs of people. As the human body has the ability to resist almost all types of organisms or toxins that tend to damage the tissues and organs, it is worth researching how the immunity can be enhanced be intaking right nutrients. It is an obvious function of our immune system to form antibodies and sensitized lymphocytes that can attack and destroy the dangerous forms of organisms or toxins. At the same time a further question may arise what can be done in nutritional human science to stimulate antibody production. Unfortunately, we do not have all the equal access to nutritional food and dietary deficiency diseases may reduce the body’s resistance to infections and affect our immune system. It certainly should start with proper global education at the earliest school level how to harvest, store, transport and process food and afterwards which nutrients should be chosen by men and women.

The authors of ”Malaria and nutritional status among pre-school children: results from cross-sectional surveys in Western Kenya” were trying to discover in their study whether undernutrition could be associated with increased or decreased malaria attributable morbidity. They point out that relatively few studies have examined the association of malaria with protein-energy malnutrition in areas with intense perennial malaria infection. Nevertheless, they write about studies conducted among severely malnourished children in refugee camps that proved that undernourished children experienced more malaria and malaria-associated morbidity. Protein-energy malnutrition affects millions of children in the developing world. The relationship between malaria and protein-energy malnutrition, that is most common in sub-Saharan Africa, is still controversial. Recent updates indicate that almost 1 million children die each year of malaria and according to ”Report of the Disease Control Priorities in Developing Countries Project” more than a half of these deaths are preventable.

According to Michael C. Latham in his ”Human nutrition in the developing world”, protein-energy, vitamin A deficiency, iodine deficiency disorders and iron deficiency are most common serious nutritional problems in almost all countries of Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Near East. He applies the survey prepared by FAO and WHO that reveals that one of every five persons in the developing world is chronically undernourished, 192 million children suffer from protein-energy malnutrition and over 2 000 million experience micronutrient deficiencies. He studies another defence mechanism that should be taken into consideration in relation to malnutrition and that is of increased production of white blood cells and the destruction of bacteria by white corpuscles. Children with kwashiorkor show a lower than normal leucocyte response in the presence of an infection. When malnutrition is present , these cells, unfortunately, appear to have a defect in their capacity to destroy bacteria.

The authors of ”Malaria and nutritional status among pre-school children: results from cross-sectional surveys in Western Kenya” claim that protein-energy malnutrition has been related to poor cognitive and school performance in young children. They reveal evidence that protein-energy malnutrition places children under five years of age at increased risk for mortality. The shocking fact that they use in their publication is the rate of 56 percent of child deaths that can be attributable to malnutrition’s  effects. Malaria is holoendemic and transmission occurs throughout the year, though the are two rainy seasons in Kenya and the estimated number of infective bites ranges between 60 and 300 per person per year. It is often observed that malaria infection causes an acute weight loss and the authors of this publication struggle to relate symptoms such as diarrhea and abdominal pain to that infection as a consequence of malabsorption of nutrients and decreased intake of them.

How would it be possible to obtain more nutritional food in developing countries and decrease the cases of vitamin, minerals and protein-energy deficiency? Michael C. Latham estimates that about 25 percent of the grains produced are lost because of bad post-harvest handling, spoilage and pest infestation. Regarding losses of fruits, vegetables and roots, these have been estimated to be about 50 percent of what is grown. Furthermore, about 10 percent of food is lost in the kitchen. Special means should be taken to prevent food losses during harvesting, transportation, storage, processing and preservation. However, much malnutrition in the world is not only caused by shortage of food, but also by disease.  Thus, Michael C. Latham suggests that a modest increase in cereal, legume, oil and vegetable consumption by children will greatly reduce the cases of protein-energy malnutrition. In his book we learn that most food in the world comes from cereals and the second largest amount of food comes from root crops, followed by legumes and pulses. World produces about 2 000 million tonnes of cereals, 600 million tonnes of root crops, 60 million of pulses, 85 million tonnes of fats and oils and 180 million tonnes of sugar per year. Industrialized countries produce more foods of animal origin like meat, milk and eggs. Lots of this food is lost before it reaches the consumer.

More dramatic effect of malnutrition is illustrated in the book as the fatality rates of measles, which is a severe disease with a fatality rate of about 15 percent in many poor countries because the young children who develop it have poor nutritional status. Michael C. Lathan states that in Mexico the fatality rate for measles has been reportted to be 180 times higher than in the United Stated, in Guatemala, 268 times higher, and in Ecuador, 480 times higher. It has been revealed that during a measles epidemic in the United Republic of Tanzania that measles is related to vitamin A deficiency and thus it has been shown that giving vitamin A supplements to children with measles who have poor vitamin A status greatly reduces fatality rates.

According to :

...getting adequate amounts of vitamin A from your diet should also prevent the symptoms of deficiency, which include hair loss, skin problems, dry eyes, night blindness and increased susceptibility to infections. Deficiency is a leading cause of blindness in developing countries. In contrast, most people in developed countries get enough vitamin A from their diet. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) is 900mcg for men, 700mcg for women and 300-600mcg for children and adolescents. Food high in Vitamin A is Beef Liver (713% DV per serving 100 grams) , Lamb Liver (236% DV per serving 100 grams), Liver Sausage (166% DV per serving 100 grams), Cod Liver Oil (150% DV per serving 100 grams), King Mackarel (43% DV per serving 100 grams), Salmon – 25% DV per serving 100grams, Bluefin Tuna, Goose Liver Pate, Goat Cheese (13% DV per serving) , Butter (11% DV per serving 100g), Limburger Cheese 11% DV per serving , Cheddar 10% , Camembert 10%,Roquefort Cheese – 9% DV per serving, Hard-Boiled Egg – 8% DV per serving 100g, Trout – 8%, Blue Cheese 6%, Cream Cheese – 5%, Caviar – 5%, Feta Cheese – 4%DV per serving, Feta Cheese – 4% DV per serving.

The worth noticing and terrifying fact observed by Michael C.Lathan in his book is the result of an inter-American investigation of mortality in childhood showing that of 35 000 deaths of children under five years of age in ten countries, in 57 percent of the cases malnutrition was either underlying or an associated cause of death.

He points out that few children suffer from vitamin C deficiency as it can be easily obtained from fruits such as guavas, mangoes, citrus and from a range of vegetables. The most important minerals in our nutrition are calcium, iron, iodine, fluorine and zinc. Vitamin D is essential for the proper absorption of calcium, the result of iron deficiency is anaemia and iodine should be mostly absorbed with sea fish, seaweed and most vegetables grown near the sea. A proper diet full with nutrients could probably optimize the human immune system. Nevertheless, the main source of energy for most Africans are carbohydrates and they may constitute up to 80 percent of their diet in some cases. In industrialized countries, carbohydrates constitute only up to 50 percent.

Undoubtedly, more thorough studies should be performed to illustrate the strategic functions of fully nutritional diet in optimizing the human immune system and simultaneously in preventing serious tropical diseases. Still little is known about enhancing our immune system in severe conditions and it sounds as a prerequisite to create an organized code of micro- and macronutrients with a proper diet that should be applied to children in developing countries to decrease the risk of infections and tropical diseases. Taking into consideration the losses connected to harvesting, transport, storage and processing food, a possibility of delivering optional nutritional food products and nutritional food supplements to children in developing countries could be analyzed. Some brave attempts to reduce such losses might decrease the prices of grains, fruits, vegetables and roots, which would enable larger consumption of right nutritional products in developing countries. At the same time,  more emphasis ought to be placed on adequate school education about nutritional benefits for our health.

Looking for these outcomes, the commitment and accountability of national governments are essential. This comes as no surprise now that, as reported  …the current international directions and neo-liberal policies have critically impaired access to food in the resource-limited countries. Over the last 20-30 years, the World Bank and the IMF, and more recently the WTO, have forced countries to decrease investment in food production and to reduce support for peasant and small farmers. Under neo-liberal policies, state-managed food reserves have been considered too expensive and governments have failed to protect farmers and consumers against sudden price fluctuations. As such, the critics argue that the neo-liberal policies have destroyed the capacities of countries to feed themselves. And this occurs at a time when land grabbing and evictions as part of neo-colonialism policies, including for biofuel agribusiness, are on the rise in Africa and elsewhere under national governments complacency and a widespread corruption.



  1. Human nutrition in the developing world, Authors: Michael C. Latham, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
  2. Malaria and nutritional status among pre-school children: results from cross-sectional surveys in Western Kenya, Authors: Jennifer F. Friedman, Arthur M. Kwena, Lisa B.Mirel, Simon K. Kariuki, Dianne J. Terlouw, Penelop A. Phillips-Howard, William A. Hawley, Bernard L. Nahlen, Ya Ping Shi, Feiko O. Ter Kuile. Publisher: The American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, Source: The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, Volume 73, Issue 4, Oct. 2005, p. 698-704
  3. Nutrition, child growth, and chronic disease prevention, Ricardo Uauy, MD PhD, Juliana Kain, Veronica Mericq, Juanita Rojas & Camila Corvalan, published online: 08 Jul 2009
  5. Nutrition-related diseases in Southern Africa: With special reference to urban African populations in transition, Alexander R.P. Walker Ph.D., D.Sc.