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Study shows tweaking gut bacteria through food supplements could help fight child malnutrition

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The microbiome’s role in growth and nutrition could thus be of seminal value. Representative Image

In 2019, across the world, 144 million children under the age of 5 were stunted and 47 million suffered from wasting, as per Unicef data. The situation in India has seen some improvement over the years; even then, 19.8 million children below age 6 in India were undernourished and 38% of children between 0-5 years were stunted. These numbers would have likely worsened because of the Covid-19 pandemic’s impact on economies. The world, therefore, desperately needs quick fix solutions to the problem. A new study may have an answer—tweaking gut bacteria.

Science reports that “in a head-to-head comparison against a leading treatment for malnutrition, a new supplement designed to promote helpful gut bacteria led to signs of improved growth and more weight gain, despite having 20% fewer calories.” The microbiome’s role in growth and nutrition could thus be of seminal value. Given undernutrition’s impact on development, the research conducted by a group of US- and Bangladesh-based scientists could offer a rescue plan for the millions of children suffering from malnutrition.

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After isolating 15 key microbes, the scientists worked on zeroing down on the foods that encourage the growth of these bacteria. Compared with a control group receiving the normal food supplement, children given the microbe-enchanced supplement showed a growth rate twice as high. It now remains to be seen how long such microbiota can sustain growth and how cost-effective they will prove in the long run.

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