Malnutrition permanently damages intestinal flora

Malnutrition permanently damages intestinal flora

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Gut flora is permanently disrupted by malnutrition

Malnutrition affects the intestinal flora for a lifetime. This is the conclusion reached by American scientists who published their study in the journal "Nature". Accordingly, certain post-malnutrition diets cause children to gain weight, but in the long term they remain smaller and lighter than their healthy peers.

Malnutrition affects 40 percent of children under the age of five in Bangladesh. Around two billion people worldwide are affected by an undercover form of malnutrition, a lack of vitamins and minerals. However, the damage to health caused by the lack of certain substances remains for life. Scientists led by Jeffrey Gordon from Washington University in St. Louis found this out. According to this, the intestinal flora is damaged so badly by malnutrition that even changing the diet to a balanced diet does not bring about long-term improvement in the intestine.

According to the researchers, around four percent of children in developing countries suffer from severe malnutrition. A lighter form affects 19 percent of children. As part of their study, the researchers examined children in Bangladesh, where around 40 percent of those under the age of five are malnourished. Since it was already known that malnutrition affects the bacterial communities living in the intestine, the scientists concentrated on the analysis of the intestinal flora in order to learn something about the long-term consequences of nutrient deficiency. On the one hand, nutrition influences the composition of the intestinal bacteria, on the other hand, the microbes influence the breakdown of nutrients.

Switching to healthy food causes only a short-term recovery of the intestinal flora after malnutrition. First, 50 healthy children were examined every month during the first two years of life. The researchers created a ranking list with 24 groups of bacteria that can be found in a healthy intestinal flora of small children. The main representatives are bacteria of the species Faecalibacterium prausnitzii and Lactobacillus ruminis as well as the genus Ruminococcus. In addition, studies of the intestinal flora were carried out in 64 malnourished children between the ages of six and 20 months. The little patients were treated with medication, nutritional supplements such as iron and various diets in a hospital in Dhaka.

In order to assess the nutritional situation, the researchers used the so-called WHZ value (weight-to-height Z-score), which indicates weight and height. Children with malnutrition showed that they gained weight rapidly as a result of the therapy, but the WHZ value remained below that of healthy children in the following months. They were lighter and smaller than their peers. The analysis of the intestinal flora also revealed that the bacterial societies initially became somewhat more diverse. After the end of treatment after four months, this effect reversed. The influence of the bacteria has also been confirmed by studies of 47 children in Malawi.

As the researchers write, the next step is to check whether long-term therapy improves the health of toddlers. A diet based on traditional foods may be more promising. Another task is to trace the role of the individual bacterial societies.

Malnutrition leads to increased susceptibility to disease for life. Another study by researchers led by Adam Hayward from the University of Sheffield last year showed that malnutrition in childhood weakens the body of those affected for a lifetime. Using Finnish church register data from 1867 and 1868 - at that time there was a severe famine in Finland, which fell victim to eight percent of the population - the researchers determined that those who suffered from hunger in childhood were more likely than adults to experience abundant conditions Cardiovascular diseases and metabolic disorders such as diabetes mellitus suffered as people who were never malnourished. (ag)

Image: Sigrid Rossmann /

Author and source information

Video: The Gut Microbiome in Health and Disease. Susan Tuddenham,.,.


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