A Healthy Microbiome Equals Better Childrens’ Health

Study shows that feeding the gut microbiome may save lives.

Happy, healthy Indian children smiling as they go to school.

(PhilipYb Studio / Shutterstock.com)

Today, the world is producing enough food to feed all the children. But when there is hunger in some regions, providing highly nutritious food has always been the solution. However, new research shows that feeding the gut microbiome may actually be more important than feeding the stomach. 

This exciting, ground-breaking research showed overall improved growth and weight gain in malnourished children, according to Science. This study, recently published in The New England Journal of Medicine, looked at 118 children aged 12 to 18 months in Dhaka, Bangladesh. 

Half of the toddlers received standard ready-to-use supplementary food (RUSF), while the others were given microbiota-directed food (MDCF). The MDCF is a paste made of chickpeas, peanuts, bananas, soy, plus micronutrients, and vitamins, according to National Public Radio. It comes in a paste that is spoon-fed to the children. 

The children ate these foods twice a day for three months and were also monitored for another month after, according to Science. Researchers compared changes in weight as well as growth. They monitored the children’s proteins in their plasma as well as their bacteria from fecal samples. 

The researchers were astounded to find that the MDCF boosted the proteins that are necessary for proper bone development, as well as improved the nervous and immune systems. The children who received the MDCF food also experienced a growth rate twice as high as those who received RUSF food.

In addition, due to the MDCF, 21 types of beneficial bacteria had abundantly increased and the children continued to grow even after the treatment. Tahmeed Ahmed, who is an expert in malnutrition Dhaka told Science, “A small amount of this food supplement can actually cure malnutrition in children.”  

This is life-saving news considering that malnutrition challenges children across the globe with some 30 million suffering from hunger. When children are not properly nourished, their growth can become stunted, their central nervous systems may not develop properly, and they may suffer from metabolic and immune dysfunction, according to the study. In addition, their gut microbiota is upset.

This study is a first using nutrition to boost the gut microbiome and the results are encouraging. Dr. Honorine Ward from Tufts University School of Medicine told Science, “This is an exciting study that promises to bring hope to millions of acutely malnourished children.”

Despite the fact that the microbiome supplement had 20 percent fewer calories than the standard RUSF food, the children gained weight. Standard RUSF is a pre-packaged paste that is ready to use, stores easily for 24 months and simply requires kneading, according to USAID. It is made from seeds, pulses, cereals, vegetable oils, a sugar dairy protein, plus it has added vitamins and minerals.

However, children eating the RUSF rarely recover and can continue to suffer even if they eat enough, according to Science. Immunologist Ruslan Medzhitov from Yale University told Science, “It’s a problem that previously didn’t have an available solution.” 

Microbiologist Justin Sonnenberg explained to NPR that a microbiome weakened from malnourishment can also lead to a risk of developing psoriasis, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, and Type 2 diabetes.

Now, there may be a solution on hand. Not only does the study reveal how important gut bacteria is to nutrition, it may be the solution hungry children need and could pave the way to a healthier world.

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