Tag: malnutrition

A Startling Connection between Malnutrition and Antibiotic Resistance

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A study published in Nature Microbiology has uncovered startling connections between micronutrient deficiencies and the composition of gut microbiomes in early life that could help explain why resistance to antibiotics has been rising across the globe.

A University of British Colombia team investigated how deficiencies in crucial micronutrients such as vitamin A, B12, folate, iron, and zinc affected the community of bacteria, viruses, fungi and other microbes that live in the digestive system.

They discovered that these deficiencies led to significant shifts in the gut microbiome of mice – most notably an alarming expansion of bacteria and fungi known to be opportunistic pathogens.

Importantly, mice with micronutrient deficiencies also exhibited a higher enrichment of genes that have been linked to antibiotic resistance.

“Micronutrient deficiency has been an overlooked factor in the conversation about global antibiotic resistance,” said Dr. Paula Littlejohn, a postdoctoral research fellow with UBC’s department of medical genetics and department of pediatrics, and the BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute. “This is a significant discovery, as it suggests that nutrient deficiencies can make the gut environment more conducive to the development of antibiotic resistance, which is a major global health concern.”

Bacteria naturally possess these genes as a defence mechanism. Certain circumstances, such as antibiotic pressure or nutrient stress, cause an increase in these mechanisms. This poses a threat that could render many potent antibiotics ineffective and lead to a future where common infections could become deadly.

Antibiotic resistance is often attributed to overuse and misuse of antibiotics, but the work of Dr. Littlejohn and her UBC colleagues suggests that the ‘hidden hunger’ of micronutrient deficiencies is another important factor.

“Globally, around 340 million children under five suffer from multiple micronutrient deficiencies, which not only affect their growth but also significantly alter their gut microbiomes,” said Dr. Littlejohn. “Our findings are particularly concerning as these children are often prescribed antibiotics for malnutrition-related illnesses. Ironically, their gut microbiome may be primed for antibiotic resistance due to the underlying micronutrient deficiencies.”

The study offers critical insights into the far-reaching consequences of micronutrient deficiencies in early life. It underscores the need for comprehensive strategies to address undernutrition and its ripple effects on health. Addressing micronutrient deficiencies is about more than overcoming malnutrition, it may also be a critical step in fighting the global scourge of antibiotic resistance.

Source: University of British Columbia

Activists Meet to Discuss Worsening Food Crisis for Children

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A group of activists for food access and affordability met yesterday (Thursday 21 September 2023) to discuss the worsening food crisis for children. Convened by the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund and the DG Murray Trust, the meeting sought to identify urgent measures to combat rising rates of severe acute malnutrition and child hunger.

The activist group includes representatives of COSATU, the South African Council of Churches, civil
society groups and academics. It endorsed the proposal by the DG Murray Trust and the Grow Great Zero-Stunting Campaign for government and the food industry to contribute equally in making at least one product label of ten highly nutritious foods far more affordable to poorer households. This proposal requests food manufacturers and retailers to ‘double discount’ a list of ten best buy foods, with the amount of profit waived by industry matched by a retail subsidy by government.

“Data from the Department of Health shows that there were over 15 000 cases of severe acute malnutrition requiring hospitalisation in the 2022/3 financial year,” says Dr Linda Ncube Nkomo, CEO of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund. “But that is just the tip of the iceberg”, she says. “Malnutrition is the underlying cause of about one-third of all child deaths in South Africa today, this despite Section 28 of the Constitution which guarantees the right of nutrition to every child”.

The problem of acute malnutrition worsens the chronically high levels of food insecurity in South Africa,
with over a quarter of children under five nutritionally stunted. Poor physical growth is just one manifestation of much deeper damage being done to the life-long wellbeing of children, not least to their brain development,” says Dr Edzani Mphaphuli, Executive Director of the Grow Great zero-stunting campaign. “If we don’t stop stunting now,” Mphaphuli continues, “we shouldn’t expect learning outcomes to improve or our economy to grow.”

In addition to the double-discounted basket of ten best buys, the group called on the food formula industry to stop extracting massive profits from the poorest mothers, whose own malnutrition makes breastfeeding difficult. Given the high cost of infant formula, desperate mothers water down the milk to make it stretch further, which means that their babies don’t get enough protein and vitamins. It also called on government to ensure that every province has an effective programme in place to identify children at high risk and to provide nutritional supplementation to children failing to thrive.

The group undertook to monitor food prices actively and to challenge the food industry to make the third of young children who live below the food poverty line their responsibility too. “We are heartened that NEDLAC has tasked a multi-sectoral committee to review the viability of proposal to double-discount ten best buy foods”, says Dr David Harrison, CEO of the DG Murray Trust. “No sector of society – not government, not labour, not civil society nor industry – should be able to say that substantive proposals to feed South Africa’s children are too difficult, without putting a better option on the table.”