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

Multimedia Social Media Documenting, Not Driving, Hong Kong Protests

Unlike Arab Spring uprisings, pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong aren't relying on Twitter and Facebook to organize, but social media still plays a role More

Analysis: Occupy Central Not Exactly Hong Kong’s Tiananmen

VOA's former Hong Kong, Beijing correspondent compares and contrasts 1989 Tiananmen Square protest with what is now happening in Hong Kong More

Bambari Hospital a Lone Place of Help in Violence-Plagued CAR

Only establishment still functioning in CAR's second city is main hospital More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid