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Can What You Eat Affect A Flu Virus?

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Can what you eat affect a flu virus?


“You bet it can,” says Melinda Beck, Ph.D., professor of pediatrics and nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In fact, according to Dr. Beck, it’s more what you don’t eat that counts.


Dr. Beck and her multidisciplinary team of colleagues are currently building upon an earlier discovery that in mice, a diet poor in the nutrient selenium causes mutations to occur in the influenza virus, making it more dangerous. Once the virus has changed, even mice whose diets are selenium-adequate are vulnerable to the more dangerous strain.


“These observations suggest a new area for flu researchers, namely the interaction between host nutrition and viral genetics,” says Dr. Beck.


Selenium is found in plant foods, such as Brazil nuts and whole grain cereals, as well as in some meats and seafoods. Its content in foods depends on the amount of selenium in the soil where the plants grow or animals graze. Selenium is incorporated into enzymes that have antioxidant properties. These enzymes are important in protecting cells from damage by free radicals that are produced during infection.


Selenium also has toxic properties if consumed in excess, so the Institute of Medicine has established a Tolerable Upper Limit for adults of 400 micrograms per day.

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