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Gut damage to blame for failing malnutrition control measures

Posted:  Friday, December 11, 2015

Malnutrition seems to be taking its toll on children world over with each passing day. What’s more, nutritional measures to curb this menace have not met with much success. A new study now sheds light on why these measures may have failed. The study finds that in order to be effective, nutritional interventions need to prevent or treat gut damage from infection in malnourished infants. The study thus espouses a multipronged approach focusing on both undernutrition and infection.

The collaborative study by the University of Virginia School of Medicine, the University of Vermont and the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research in Bangladesh was conducted in an urban slum in Dhaka, Bangladesh. For the study, the researchers enrolled children and their parents from the time of the child’s birth. Twice a week, the researchers visited the children at their homes for free medical care and growth monitoring. Much to their dismay, the researchers found that despite vaccination, free medical care and nutritional care, stunting rose from 9.5 percent at enrollment to 27.6 percent at 1 year of age.

To investigate this unabated rise in malnutrition, the researchers conducted tests to check if gut damage from infections was the culprit. They subjected these children to the same tests that are conducted in children suffering from inflammatory bowel disease in the USA. The test results confirmed their suspicions, with nearly every child showing abnormal results. This implied that the guts of these children were damaged.

Dr. William Petri, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and International Health at University of Virginia further proclaimed, “We found that the longer that the child suffered from inflammation, the worse was their nutrition, suggesting that the body’s immune response may be the root cause of the problem of malnutrition and a target for prevention.”

To keep malnutrition in abeyance, the researchers recommend preventive measures such as improved sanitation and treatment of infections. Targeted vaccinations are also crucial in this setting, but the researchers found that gut damage rendered the oral vaccines ineffective. The researchers also found that maternal health had a role to play in predicting whether a 1-year-old child would become malnourished. This implicates prenatal care as a potential avenue for interventions.

What’s encouraging is that these researchers plan to continue their untiring efforts to reduce the impact of infections on child health. They intend to check if some infections are much more harmful to the child’s gut, and understand their transmission.

With such efforts in place, it may just be possible to avert the imposing menace of malnutrition.

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