Could Malnutrition and Bacterial Imbalance Be Linked?
Malnutrition is nothing new. The medical community has been studying the condition, especially in children, for generations and across nearly every continent. We know it exists. We know that malnutrition can lead to all sorts of chronic physical problems as children grow. What has often confused the medical community is why the simple act of feeding undernourished children doesn’t necessarily guarantee they will rebound. We may now have the answer in something as basic and fundamental as a bacterial imbalance.
A set of three studies released in late February (2016) suggests a very real link between bacterial imbalance and malnutrition. The studies seem to suggest that children who are malnourished also tend to not have enough good bacteria in their systems as a result. That bacteria, necessary for proper digestion and eventual physical development, will not necessarily find a proper balance by itself.
Exciting Study Results Look Promising
Malnutrition is a debilitating condition that affects far too many people worldwide. According to Student Science, malnutrition contributes to approximately 1 million deaths annually among children. Even for survivors, the effects of malnutrition include a long list of problems ranging from stunted growth to abnormal organ development.
French researchers in the first of the three studies decided to tackle the problem by looking at it from the angle of intestinal tract bacteria and microbes. They studied baby mice divided into two categories – those with adequate gut bacteria and those without – by feeding them a low-protein diet and then monitoring their growth. They discovered that the mice without adequate gut bacteria were stunted while the others exhibited normal growth that included bigger bones, bigger organs, and greater body mass overall.
The second study was conducted by researchers from George Washington University in St. Louis. They studied infants in Malawi, Africa to see how gut bacteria influenced growth and development. What struck them is the fact that the gut bacteria in malnourished infants more closely resembled what would be found in newborn babies rather than in healthy children of their age. They reasoned that an inadequate microbial mix, caused by malnutrition, was harming growth and development.
The third and final study was born out of the second and conducted by the same researchers from George Washington University. In this study, they took gut bacteria from both healthy and malnourished children and injected it into test mice. The mice receiving the inadequate bacteria supply did not grow as well, or as strongly, as the group that received the good bacteria supply.
What the Studies Tell Us
While the three studies are by no means conclusive, they do shed light on something we have missed all along: the bacteria and microbes required by the human body for proper digestion need to be maintained in proper balance in order to gain the most from the foods we eat. Malnutrition can result in a severe imbalance, yet regaining that balance may not be as easy as feeding a malnourished person good food.
It looks as though we may need to take active steps to regain bacterial balance in addition to providing good food. Once bacteria and microbes are again found in adequate supply within the digestive system, all of that good food we are feeding the malnourished individual can actually be put to good use.
This exciting research has certainly shed new light on the problem of malnutrition. Hopefully, we can learn more things in the future that will help us make a significant dent in a worldwide problem.