News / Africa

Scientists Suggest Adding Selenium to Diets in Malawi

x

Multimedia

Audio
Kim Lewis
Scientists say adding a naturally-occurring mineral to fertilizers could help reduce disease and death among Malawians.   It’s all part of an international study conducted by researchers at the University of Nottingham in the U.K. on the nutritional value of soil in Malawi.  The report has found that dietary deficiency of the mineral selenium, which plays a vital role in keeping the immune system healthy, is endemic in Malawi.  

The study, which was published in the journal Scientific Reports, found that most Malawi soils do not have an adequate amount of selenium required for human nutrition. In the report, researchers are calling for further investigation into the benefits and costs of enriching crops with selenium through fertilizers. 

Dr. Martin Broadley, one of the lead researcher of the study at the University of Nottingham’s school of biosciences said, “one of the issues is the natural acidity of the soil in Malawi and in many areas.  So it may be that there is rather a lot of selenium around in terms of the total concentration in the soil, but in terms of the amount of selenium that is available to be taken up by plants, that could be very, very low.”     

The study examined the diet and nutritional status of a total of 120 relatively healthy women between 18 and 50 years of age living in villages in Zombwe in northern Malawi and Mikalango in the south.

“It was a joint study with several collaborating groups in Malawi itself, and we were working with the Ministry of Health, and with Lilongwe University. Our colleagues from those organizations spent a period of time in the homes of volunteers from two different regions:  one region where the soils were very, very acidic, and where we had previously observed very low transfer of the element  selenium into the local crop, and one area where the soils were much more alkaline,” explained Broadley.

“Our colleagues,” he continued, “spent time and a period of 24 hours with each of the volunteers of the study and were able to collect samples of food and drink that were consumed in the home over that period.  And we were also able to collect blood and urine samples from the volunteers.”

Generally speaking, scientists have found that a lack of proper levels of selenium in the body adversely affects the immune system.  As a result, people tend to be more susceptible to infectious diseases and cardiovascular problems.  One example of where enriched crops are showing success is in Finland.

“For the past 30 years, they have been using micronutrients, enriched fertilizers, to make sure that adequate levels of selenium were going into the diet.  So the technology is in place.  What isn’t known is the benefit cost of analysis of adopting something like this approach, said Broadley.

In Malawi, the staple maize, dominates the diet.  But, Broadley said the key to a healthier diet and to getting more selenium is to eat a larger variety of foods.

“People have to try and diversify their diets as much as possible, and that may mean trying to eat more fish, or more animal produce of some description, or more vegetables, or more nuts—that type of thing, which general have high levels of selenium in them.  And we’re going to be a long way short of adequate intakes without some radical changes in the intakes of the Malawi population.  And, again, you are dealing with a situation in Malawi where many people are living on extremely low income levels, and don’t have access to sufficient purchasing power to be able to afford to buy such a diverse range of foods,” Broadley explained.  

He also pointed out that a lot more research needs to be conducted to identify whether the cost of adding or changing the existing fertilizer practices in Malawi would be the most beneficial approach to improving the nutritional value of crops.

You May Like

Diplomats Work to Extend Israeli-Palestinian Cease-Fire

US Secretary of State John Kerry, diplomats from France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Turkey and Qatar gathered in Paris Saturday to discuss crisis More

Photogallery US Defense Department Warns of Arms to Eastern Ukraine

‘Imminent’ delivery of Russian rocket launcher poses threat to civilians, US says More

Video Researchers: Africa Genetically Modified Crops Held Back by Scaremongering

GM crops offer best hope of increasing productivity and coping with climate change in Africa, according to co-author of Chatham House report More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Astronauts Train in Underwater Labi
X
George Putic
July 25, 2014 7:25 PM
In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid