If you've ever traveled overseas, you know that you need to prepare your body to fight off different diseases you don't encounter in your hometown. Conventional medicine prepares you by giving you vaccines and preventative medications. But new research is suggesting that if you're traveling to a place where you may be exposed to malaria, you might want to consider eating some yogurt before you go.
Malaria, as you may know, is mosquito-borne. It involves fever, chills, and flu-like symptoms and is treatable but potentially fatal if not addressed. In fact, over a million people die from malaria every year. There is currently no vaccine for the disease, and it's becoming increasingly adept at resisting drugs.
Researchers at the University of Tennessee and the University of Louisville are busy looking for alternative ways to defend against this illness. In their studies with mice, they've discovered something interesting: the severity of malaria doesn't just depend on the mosquito carrying it or the general health of the infected mouse. It also has a lot to do with the bacteria in the mouse's gut.
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The researchers found that even mice that were genetically similar reacted very differently to malaria infection. To try to determine the cause of the variation, they analyzed the mice's gut microbiomes and found major differences. They further investigated the connection by transferring gut microbiomes from one mouse to another. The severity of the disease followed suit.
The mice that were less susceptible to the malaria had more of a certain type of bacteria than the others. Interestingly, this type of bacteria is also common in yogurt. So the researchers fed yogurt to the mice with more severe cases of malaria. Sure enough, the severity decreased.
The researchers do point out that introducing beneficial bacteria neither prevented nor cured malaria. But they certainly seem to be on the right path to finding an effective treatment. And if you were to get malaria, you'd certainly want to know how to make it less severe.
If you think there's a possibility you'll be exposed to malaria, I think it's a good idea to prepare your body to fight it. If you enjoy yogurt, make sure you're eating it regularly. Make sure it's low in sugar, as sugar feeds bad bacteria. You also can take a high-quality probiotic, such as Advanced Probiotic Formula, to supply your gut with beneficial bacteria. It's a good idea to take probiotics before, during, and after your trip, as you may not realize you've been exposed to malaria right away.
Yours for better health,
Frank Shallenberger, MD
Nicolas F. Villarino, Gary R. LeCleir, Joshua E. Denny, Stephen P. Dearth, Christopher L. Harding, Sarah S. Sloan, Jennifer L. Gribble, Shawn R. Campagna, Steven W. Wilhelm, and Nathan W. Schmidt. Composition of the gut microbiota modulates the severity of malaria. PNAS, February 2016 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1504887113