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Vitamin B12 and Malaria

By Teresa Bergen

The best way to avoid contracting malaria is to prevent mosquito bites. Long sleeves, insect repellent and mosquito nets can all help. But the determined insects have a way of finding inroads, and pretty soon you’re bitten. Residents of and travelers to malarial areas have tried many preventative measures. Vitamin B12 is one prophylactic that many people swear by.

Malaria

More than 40 percent of the world's population in 100 countries is at risk for malaria. The anopheles mosquitoes which carry the malaria parasites like warm weather, so hot and/or tropical places including Africa, South and Southeast Asia, Oceana, the Middle East and South and Central America are all malarial hot spots. Once bitten by an infected mosquito, the parasite enters your bloodstream and makes its way into your liver. There, the parasite multiplies. This army of parasites then re-enters your bloodstream and attacks your red blood cells, further mutliplying until the cells burst, releasing parasites into your blood plasma. This causes the high fever typical of malaria. When a person with malaria is bitten by an uninfected anopheles mosquito, the human passes the parasite to the mosquito.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12, officially called cobalamin, works together with folate to create red blood cells. It assists your body in using certain amino acids and fatty acids, and is a vital part of chemicals that make up the body. Animal products such as milk, beef, salmon and yogurt are the best sources of the vitamin. B12 deficiency results in nerve damage, anemia and overly sensitive skin. Taking too much B12 seems to pose no danger, as it’s a water-soluble vitamin. But the popular practice of getting B12 injections for energy has no scientific basis, according to dietitian and author Roberta Larson Duyff.

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B12 and Malaria

While several anti-malarial medicines are sold, many residents of and travelers to affected regions seek natural solutions. Some travelers start a regimen of vitamin B12 supplements well before their journey. The idea is that the vitamin makes you secrete a smell that mosquitoes find unappetizing. But the evidence for this theory is weak at best. Dr. Cameron Webb, a scientist in the medical entomology department at Westmead Hospital in Sydney, Australia, denies the B12 connection. Webb says that while mosquitoes obviously find some humans tastier than others, it’s not directly related to B12 ingestion.

B12 Literature Study

UK public health officer Ashley Croft did a literature survey of more than 100 studies involving vitamin supplementation and malaria. His conclusions were published in the journal "Clinical Evidence" in July, 2010. Those studies relevant to B vitamins did not support B12 as an anti-malarial. They found no difference between the number of mosquito landings on people who had taken B vitamins, or on things recently touched by people who had taken B vitamins, and the control groups.

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