Modulating the gut microbiota to better fight child malnutrition

Long before the advent of genetics, more traditional analytical methods already showed that the bacterial communities of the gut were different in children who suffered from severe malnutrition. What if restoring good gut bacteria could influence these children’s growth?

Created 09 July 2021
Updated 12 October 2021

About this article

Created 09 July 2021
Updated 12 October 2021

Delayed growth, long-term consequences on the metabolism, immunity, and cognitive development… malnutrition in children is still a global health problem, with therapeutic and food-related solutions that are still incomplete or even insufficient. Researchers have realized that the gut microbiota of these children has maturation deficits, with seemingly underdeveloped microbial communities compared to those of healthy children. The aim of this study, which steers away from the norm, is to concentrate on the gut microbiota in order to influence growth, and to see how a food supplement that targets gut microbiota (MDCF-2) improves the growth of 118 malnourished Bangladeshi children versus a pre-existing ready-to-use supplementary food (RUSF).

Children who grow and put on weight more quickly

Although RUSF has more calories, the children who received MDCF-2 gained more weight and grew more quickly. In addition, children who received MDCF-2 presented with higher levels of proteins associated with bone growth and neurological development. Another encouraging result: 21 types of bacteria that are positively linked with changes in growth were detected.

Hope for millions of children?

To date, over 30 million children under the age of five years still suffer from malnutrition world-wide. This study suggests that the healthy growth of children is inexorably linked to optimal development of their gut microbial communities after birth. Larger studies conducted in more varied geographical areas should make it possible to confirm the advantages of a nutritional therapy that targets the gut microbiota compared with traditional strategies. Confirmation of these therapeutic claims would mark a significant success in the fight against the consequences of child malnutrition.

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Chen RY, Mostafa I, Hibberd MC, et al. A Microbiota-Directed Food Intervention for Undernourished Children. N Engl J Med. 2021;384(16):1517-1528. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa2023294

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