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Should malnourished children be given antibiotics or nutrients?

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Malnourishment is not hunger! Although global hunger is an ongoing struggle for more than one billion people, severe acute malnutrition is a more serious condition causing 45% of deaths in children under five years old. Worldwide, 34 million children are living with malnutrition and every year at least one million of them die due to severe malnutrition and related diseases.

Contrary to common belief, malnutrition is not only an issue in the developing countries. One percent of all children in the US and about three million in the UK are reported to be malnourished due to dietary imbalances, rather than hunger. Additionally, physical and mental stresses, as well as chronic diseases such as cancer and diabetes, increase our nutrient requirements. This results in a subjective nutrient deficiency if additional supplementation is not provided. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 2,000 and 3,000 elderly people die each year in the US as a result of malnutrition.

Malnutrition develops with a chronic deficiency of the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that are required to maintain healthy cells, tissues and organs within the body. Along with many other health issues it distorts various organ systems, including the immune system, and weakens the immune response – thus making a person vulnerable to serious, lifethreatening infections. Unsupported nutrient deficiency and infections become the leading causes of death in malnourished individuals.

Therefore, the provision of appropriate nutrition is the obvious first step in the treatment of malnutrition. Antibiotics or other drugs may be given depending on the individual situation. However, pharmaceutical interest groups continue to recommend antibiotics as a routine treatment protocol for every case of severe malnutrition, regardless of individual requirements. But antibiotics do not address the root cause of malnutrition. Nutrient supplementation does. Moreover, antibiotics further weaken an already compromised immune system. One clinical study conducted in malnourished children in Malawi strongly suggested antibiotics as a standard part of the treatment of severe acute malnutrition*. The authors recognize the public health hazards of such indiscriminate antibiotic use in developing resistant bacteria. In the US alone, 23,000 people die each year due to antibiotic-resistant infections. Yet, the Malawi study promotes routine antibiotic use in severely malnourished children because of the “observed health benefits.” Fortunately, other follow-up studies and many physicians disagree with such a universal recommendation.

Other than the side effects, the cost of widespread antibiotic administration is unaffordable in many developing countries compared to the healthier and less expensive option of supplemental nutrition. In addition to providing the required nutritional support in the form of carbohydrates, proteins and fats, several micronutrients are also essential for recovery and health maintenance in malnourished populations. A complete spectrum of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and trace elements perform critical functions in building an immune response through supporting white blood (“police”) cells, as well as in maintaining the tissues and organs that produce antibodies for long-term immunity.

The research conducted at the Dr. Rath Research Institute focuses on the principles of micronutrient synergy as the most effective approach to optimize cellular metabolism and restore its balance. Our research studies have shown that micronutrient synergy is more effective than individual nutrients, or their random combination, in addressing specific cellular functions. Micronutrient supplementation provides effective health solutions because it addresses the root causes of susceptibility to infectious diseases in malnourished children and adults. Synergistic micronutrient support is critical for improving the general immunity of the body and supporting multiple other physiological functions essential for health.

*Antibiotics as Part of the Management of Severe Acute Malnutrition; Trehan I, et al. N Engl J Med 2013;368:425-435

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