Malnutrition and infectious disease are severe problems for many people in disadvantaged areas of the world. While both challenges alone pose a significant obstacle to global health, new research suggests that they may comprise a vicious cycle. Malnourishment is known to be a significant risk factor in acquiring various infectious diseases such as malaria, HIV, and tuberculosis. However, infectious disease also appears to be a contributing cause in many cases of malnourishment. Infections that disturb the body’s normal bacterial composition in the digestive tract may prevent the proper absorption of nutrients. Also, when a person’s immune system is actively fighting an infection, a significant amount of their limited metabolic energy goes into fighting the infection. This can put substantial stress on an already energy deprived system.
Despite daunting challenges posed by malnourishment and infectious disease, new research has shown that targeting both problems simultaneously in patients can have promising results. A recent study in Malawai showed that malnourished children who were given an antibiotic along with a dietary supplement showed better recovery from malnutrition then patients on the dietary supplement alone. The study consisted of 2,767 malnourished children aged six months to five years. Of the subjects, 85.1% of the children on placebo recovered, compared with 88.7% and 90.9% on amoxicillin and cefdinir, respectively. This same study also looked at the gut microbial content of children with kwashikior, a disease that develops in some children with severe malnutrition. The hallmarks of this disease are bulging stomachs, thin and elongated limbs, skin disorders, and liver disease. The study looked at pairs of twins in which one child developed the disease and the other did not. The researchers found that the twin with kwashikior routinely had a less diverse microbiome in their digestive tract than the healthy twin. These results illustrate the importance of maintaining a balanced and diverse microbe content in order to digest food effectively.
Based on the results of this study, the World Health Organization is expected to recommend the use of antibiotic supplements in treating malnourishment. Many of these antibiotics cost only a few dollars for a week’s supply. Hopefully with prices as low as these, an international effort to get these drugs into the hands of those who need them will be successful.
Posted by Sean McDougall (2)