Diets May Breed Deadlier Viruses
Reuters Jun 8 2001 Poor nutrition leads to mutations that create more
dangerous forms of the
and may contribute to newly virulent outbreaks of viral epidemics
ranging from the common cold
to AIDS and
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (Reuters), university researchers said
on Friday Deficiencies of
selenium allowed the human influenza virus to mutate into more virulent
forms in mice, and a similar mutation is likely to occur in people,
researchers said in a study in the FASEB Journal, published by the
Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.
"Once the mutations have occurred, even mice with normal nutrition
are more susceptible to the newly virulent strain," said researcher
Melinda Beck of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
"Poor nutritional status may contribute to the emergence of new viral
strains and might promote epidemics."
In the study, groups of mice with normal and selenium-deficient diets were
exposed to Influenza A Bangkok, a mild strain of human influenza virus.
Although researchers had expected the malnourished mice to be sicker than
the well-fed ones, they confirmed that the virus also mutated to a greater
degree in these mice.
Selenium, which is found in meat and grains
like wheat and rice, is a component of an anti-oxidant enzyme that helps the
body fight off infections. Most people in developed countries would not need to
supplement their diet to maintain adequate levels of the mineral, the
"It's in everyone's best interest to make sure that populations are
well-fed -- both ethically and morally, and for public health concerns,"
Beck said. "It's a two-sided coin. More virulent (viral) strains will
affect healthy populations as well."
The study focused on the flu virus, which hospitalizes more than 100,000 people
each year in the United States alone. The research also confirmed earlier
studies into the causes of mutations of a virus, Coxsackie B3, linked to a heart
disease known as Keshan disease.
The disease, once found in China among children and women of childbearing age
with diets low in selenium, was largely eradicated by dietary supplements, the