Diet & Nutrition
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Diet & Nutrition

Leprosy and its relation to Nutrition

Leprosy existed in the Indian subcontinent since 2000 BCE. This disease was always considered to be a tropical disease that occurred in less-developed countries. Leprosy also known as Hansen’s disease is a chronic, progressive bacterial infection caused by Mycobacterium leprae. These bacteria invade nerves of the extremities, skin, lining of the nose, and the upper respiratory tract. It might ultimately lead to significant disability. The main symptoms of leprosy include muscle weakness, numbness in the hands, arms, feet, legs, and skin lesions.

This is not a highly-contagious disease but can spread rapidly through frequent contact with the mucosal secretions of the infected person. There are three different types of leprosy identified. They are Tuberculoid leprosy which is mild compared to other types and people infected with Tuberculoid leprosy show fewer lesions. Lepromatous leprosy mostly affects skin, nerves, and other organs. It includes widespread lesions including bumps and lumps which is more contagious. Borderline leprosy has clinical features of both tuberculoid and lepromatous leprosy. The help of surveys, education, and treatment programs and isolating patients in leprosy homes or asylums made leprosy elimination possible. WHO announced the leprosy eradication in the year 2005, but it was arbitrary as the eradication was defined as one case per 10000 people. Do you know diet and lifestyle can influence and could be the possible risk factor for leprosy?

This disease known as the disease of the poor is surely related to the socio-economic status of the people which will ultimately put them at the risk of malnutrition. Food shortage at one or another time of life could be related to leprosy. As this bacteria is an intracellular micro-organism, protein-energy malnutrition, inadequate intake of vitamins and minerals are linked to reduced cell-mediated immunity. Dietary factors that appear to influence the pathogenesis of leprosy include Vitamin A, Vitamin B, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Calcium, and Zinc as these play a very important role in maintaining health and immunity.

Vitamin C:

Vitamin-C-rich foods are a standout as they help prevent infections. Apart from citrus fruits, kale, spinach, bell peppers, Brussel sprouts, papaya, strawberries are good sources of vitamin C. It supports the production of interferons which facilitate the ability of protective cellular defenses. It helps in enhancing the function of phagocytes which surround pathogens and other dangerous particles. The most important factor of vitamin-C-rich foods is the activation of macrophages, natural killer cells, antigen-specific T-lymphocytes which attack anything that is perceived as a foreign agent.

Vitamin E:

Vitamin-E-rich foods can improve the immune responsiveness in healthy individuals. Alpha-tocopherol content was significantly higher in individuals including vitamin E-rich foods. It is a powerful antioxidant that helps the body fight off infections. Vitamin E-rich foods include almonds, peanuts/ peanut butter, sunflower seeds, oils such as sunflower, safflower, soybean oil, hazelnuts.

Vitamin A:

It is well-known that vitamin A is crucial for vision and promotes growth and development. It is anti-inflammatory and plays a critical role in enhancing immune function and protecting from infection. Vitamin A-rich foods include carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, butternut squash, cantaloupe, dark green leafy vegetables.

Vitamin B group:

Thiamin (B1), Riboflavin (B2), Niacin (B3), Pantothenic acid (B5), Pyridoxine (B6), Biotin (B7), Folic acid (B9), Cyanocobalamin (B12) make up the B group of vitamins. Dietary deficiencies of nutrients can alter the cell-mediated immunity which can be prone to several infections. Pyridoxine and biotin play a major role in maintaining cell-mediated immunity. Salmon, leafy greens, eggs, milk, beef, oysters, legumes are some of the rich sources of the B group of vitamins.


Minerals like calcium and zinc also help in strengthening the immune system. Calcium plays a very important role as calcium signals decide or control whether immune cells can use the nutrients to get multiplied to fight against invading viruses. It acts as the second messenger in many cells including lymphocytes which are an important part of immune cells. Zinc is needed for the production of new immune cells which is found in animal foods such as oysters, crabs, lean meat and poultry, baked beans, yogurt, and chickpeas.

On this day of leprosy eradication, above are a few points to note and recollect how leprosy can be prevented with adequate and balanced nutrition. Deficiencies of these nutrients can lead to an impaired immune system which may be a cause for the development of clinical leprosy. As nutrition can help maintain the immune system and health, it is much needed to bring awareness in the rural parts of the country and world to eradicate leprosy. It is evident that there is little research done on the relation between nutrition and leprosy and further research is still required for strong evidence.


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