Diarrhoea and malnutrition interaction

Author(s): Patwari AK


Epidemiological studies have demonstrated a marked negative relationship between diarrhoea and physical growth and development of a child. Each day of illness due to diarrhoea produces a weight deficit of 20-40 gms. Poor nutrition is associated with more serious prolonged diarrhoea. 'Catch-up growth' often does not occur in malnourished children. Malnutrition, particularly wasting, is a strong predictor of diarrhoeal duration and the prolonged illness could exacerbate nutritional faltering, thereby increasing the subsequent risk of death. Poor appetite, vomiting, deliberate withholding of food resulting in poor intake; malabsorption of macro and micronutrients; hastening of intestinal transit time; disturbance of metabolic and endocrine functions; and direct loss of protein and other nutrients in gastrointestinal tract are some of the known mechanisms which have an impact on the nutrition during an episode of diarrhea. In addition diarrhoea of infectious origin causes cytokine induced malnutrition which results from the actions of proinflammatory cytokines like tumour necrosis factor and interleukin 1, 6 and 8. Preexisting malnutrition is associated with decreased turnover of epithelial cells resulting in delayed recovery which may prolong an episode of infectious diarrhoea by itself as well as by promoting tissue invasion by other enteropathogens. Malnutrition may also alter protective host factors and thereby favour intestinal colonization by the pathogenic microbes. Mucosal damage varying from moderately severe changes to flat lesions indistinguishable from those of celiac disease may occur in kwashiorkar. Diarrhoea malnutrition interaction represents a dangerous web which can be distangled by prevention of disease transmission by promoting exclusive breast feeding, hygienic weaning practices, safe drinking water and handwashing, improved host defences by breast feeding, improved nutrition, measles vaccine and other vaccines against enteropathogens in the offing; and promotion of standard case management with special emphasis on nutritional support and rehabilitation.

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