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Gut Bacteria, Not Lack of Food, May Cause Malnutrition

In a study of twins from Malawi, scientists have concluded that a poor diet is not the only explanation for becoming malnourished. An imbalance of bacteria in the gut may be to blame. 

What’s the Latest Development?

Many cases of malnutrition may not be caused by a lack of food but by a misalignment of bacteria in the human gut, according to a team of researchers at Washington University, St. Louis. In a study of twins from Malawi, scientists found that in cases where one twin became malnourished, while the other did not, the culprit was bacteria that regulate a biochemical pathway called the Krebs cycle. “Interfere with it and the whole metabolism will slow down, with potentially catastrophic consequences. And if a child has the wrong bacteria in his gut, that seems to be what happens.”

What’s the Big Idea?

The scientists were able to confirm that Malawi children’s gut bacteria were causing malnutrition, despite the basic but sufficient diet common in the African nation, by transplanting their fecal matter into mice, who in turn became malnourished. The study is part of a budding medical and scientific field that examines the role played by the many millions of bacteria in our stomach and intestines in keeping us healthy. By monitoring and correcting for bacterial imbalances, natural cures may be found to diseases which originate in the digestive system.

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Read it at The Economist


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