NPR: A Mix Of These Foods Could Restore Healthy Microbes In Malnourished Kids

Olivia Falcigno/NPR

Olivia Falcigno/NPR

When children suffer from severe malnourishment, they don't just lose weight.

The condition wreaks havoc on biological systems throughout the body — including the microbiome, the healthy bacteria and other microbes that live in our digestive tracts. Those bacteria number in the trillions in every person and include hundreds of different species. They're essential for metabolism, bone growth, brain function, the immune system and other bodily functions.

In a study published Thursday in the peer-reviewed journal Science, scientists in a renowned microbiology lab at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, report the development of a specialized food designed to rehabilitate gut microbes in severely malnourished children, a treatment that should facilitate both their immediate and long-term recovery.

The food — a spoon-fed paste made from chickpeas, soy, peanuts, bananas and a blend of oils and micronutrients — was shown to substantially boost microbiome health.

The researchers are still working to understand the exact biochemistry that causes certain foods to have a greater impact on restoring the microbiome than others. But Lawrence David, a leading gut microbe specialist at Duke University School of Medicine who was not involved in the study, says that the research represents an unprecedented step forward in understanding what a healthy gut microbiome should look like, how health conditions like malnourishment affect it and what interventions might work to repair damages.

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