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The infant gut microbiome and cognitive development in malnutrition.

Clinical Nutrition 2024 April 5
Malnutrition affects 195 million children under the age of five worldwide with long term effects that include impaired cognitive development. Brain development occurs rapidly over the first 36 months of life. Whilst seemingly independent, changes to the brain and gut microbiome are linked by metabolites, hormones, and neurotransmitters as part of the gut-brain axis. In the context of severe malnutrition, the composition of the gut microbiome and the repertoire of biochemicals exchanged via the gut-brain axis vary when compared to healthy individuals. These effects are primarily due to the recognized interacting determinants, macro- and micronutrient deficiencies, infection, infestations and toxins related to poor sanitation, and a dearth of psycho-social stimulation. The standard of care for the treatment of severe acute malnutrition is focused on nutritional repletion and weight restoration through the provision of macro- and micronutrients, the latter usually in excess of recommended dietary allowances (RDA). However, existing formulations and supplements have not been designed to specifically address key recovery requirements for brain and gut microbiome development. Animal model studies indicate that treatments targeting the gut microbiome could improve brain development. Despite this, research on humans targeting the gut microbiome with the aim of restoring brain functionality are scarce. We conclude that there is a need for assessment of cognition and the use of various tools that permit visualization of the brain anatomy and function (e.g., Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), electroencephalogram (EEG)) to understand how interventions targeting the gut microbiome impact brain development.

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