Poop could just be the answer to malnutrition, researchers find

Public health officer Winzer Kirui explains to a mother how to feed her baby during an outreach session in Kiwawa, West Pokot County.


Photo credit: Photo | Pool

What you need to know:

  • It is estimated that the microbiome contains about 100 trillion bacteria
  • To cure the children whose gut microbiota has been severely damaged, gut systems undergo a surgery and faecal transplant
  • It is taking part of the faeces from a healthy person and giving to another to give the sicker person more beneficial microbes

Kenya will soon be able to transplant the gut microbiome, the trillions of healthy bacteria that live in the digestive tract that get destroyed due to severe malnutrition.

Samuel Kariuki, a professor of microbiology and the director of research at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri), told HealthyNation that the technology would be able to transplant the gut with commercially available bacteria and, wait for it, poop. “A few studies are planned at Kemri and it will be available soon,” Prof Kariuki told HealthyNation.

Severe malnutrition damages a child forever, and they never recover even when they get adequate food later. Scientists have shown that there is “a golden interval” for childhood nutrition that occurs before the age of two.

Hajir Maalim, Eastern Africa and Horn of Africa Director for Action against Hunger, an international humanitarian organisation that has supported responses to malnutrition, said during the first 1,000 days of a child brain growth was extensive and babies were developing their immune systems. Beyond this period, the damage is irreversible: the children repeat classes more because their brains do not develop.

Break down food

This is because children are often sick all the time due to the damage of the microbiome.

The gut microbiome or microbiota is a family of organisms such as bacteria, yeasts, fungi, viruses and protozoans that live in our digestive pipes. Scientists are increasingly treating the microbiome as an organ in its own right.

It is estimated that the microbiome contains about 100 trillion bacteria, many of which are crucial as they break down food and toxins that could harm us, make vitamins and train our immune systems.

A microbiologist, Jeffrey Gordon from the Washington University and the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research in Bangladesh, studied the bacteria found in faeces of healthy children so as to know how a healthy microbiome changes as the child grows. He wanted to answer questions such as how much bacteria is there and what species.

To cure the children whose gut microbiota has been severely damaged, gut systems undergo a surgery and faecal transplant which is also known as transpoosion. Termed medicine’s most disgusting procedure, it is taking part of the faeces from a healthy person and giving to another to give the sicker person more beneficial microbes.

In the journal Science, the researchers described how the microbiome in the malnourished children was underdeveloped, lacking the number and diversity of microbes expected for a child of that age, and similar to that of a younger child. The researchers worked to develop foods that could poke the gut to grow back toward its healthy “signature” state in the malnourished child.