The end of malnutrition in children is possible if they are fed supplements made from green banana, chickpea, soybean and peanut flour, according to scientists at icddr,b.
A research jointly conducted by icddr,b and Washington University has come up with a cure for child malnutrition, according to an icddr,b press release issued on Monday.
If certain types of immature microbiota are fed with specific diets, those get mature, resulting in overcoming stunting, improper brain development or wasting (low weight-for-height) of children, they said.
Microbes are microscopic organisms that are important in human health. Gut microbes help in digestion and guard against pathogenic microbes.
Children suffering from malnutrition often fail to grow even after receiving enough to eat. As a result, their brains do not develop properly and they remain susceptible to diseases for many years after.
This is because their gut microbes which remain in an immature state.
Dr Tahmeed Ahmed, senior director of Nutrition and Clinical Services at icddr,b, and Prof Jeffrey Gordon at Washington University have been leading this research since 2014.
Together, they studied the main types of bacteria present in the healthy guts of children.
They also tested which sets of foods boost these important bacterial communities in animal models.
Prof Gordon said the aim has been "to target microbes to heal. Microbes do not see bananas or peanuts - they just see a blend of nutrients they can use and share."
"It was not yet completely clear why these foods worked best but a much larger trial was now being carried out to see if the diet had long-term effects on children's weight and height gain," he added.
The research team tested out different diets in a recently concluded trial, which involved 68 malnourished children aged 12-18 months living in the capital's Mirpur area.
They investigated the impact of diets on the gut microbiota, a type of microbe, and how members of the microbiota that are beneficial are affected positively.
"Some of the microbiota are good for the physical and mental wellbeing of the children. We proved it for the first time," Dr Tahmeed Ahmed told The Business Standard.
"Vaccines that are given orally such as rotavirus, cholera, diarrhoea do not get effective as they should be in the children who are suffering from malnutrition," he added.
"It appears the traditional nutrition interventions practised in the developing countries have to be boosted with the diets developed based upon the new knowledge of the role of the gut microbiota to combat malnutrition among children and to prevent all the deadly complications," Dr Tahmeed further said.
Another key outcome of this study was to see the effect of diets on proteins produced in child body. Consequently, two articles were published in July 2019.
According to Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey 2017-2018, 31 percent of children under 5 were short for their age, or stunted, while 9 percent were severely stunted, 8 percent were waste (low weight for height) and 22 percent were underweight.
Another report of the World Health Organisation stated that 52 million children under 5 years are wasted, while 17 million were severely wasted and 155 million were stunted.
It means many countries, including Bangladesh, will not be able to achieve Goal 2 of Sustainable Development Goals, which aims to end all forms of hunger and malnutrition by 2030, making sure all people, especially children, have sufficient and nutritious food all year.