From Science Daily:

Malnourished children are most likely to die from common infections, not starvation. New experimental evidence, reviewed May 26 in Trends in Immunology, indicates that even with a healthy diet, defects in immune system function from birth could contribute to a malnourished state throughout life. Researchers speculate that targeting immune pathways could be a new approach to reduce the poor health and mortality caused by under- and overnutrition.

“That traditional image of malnutrition that we’re unfortunately so familiar with–of someone wasting away–that’s just the external picture,” says Review first author Claire Bourke, a postdoctoral research assistant in the Centre for Genomics and Child Health at Queen Mary University of London. “Those height and weight defects that we see are the tip of the iceberg–there are a whole range of pro-inflammatory conditions, impaired gut function, weakened responses to new infections, and a resulting high metabolic burden underlying them.”

The most common form of undernutrition globally is stunting — where children fail to achieve their full height potential. Despite looking healthy, children in developing countries who are stunted in height may also have stunted immune development, making them more vulnerable to death by common infections.

Only recently have researchers had access to technology that can accurately study immunodeficiency. Even though immune parameters in undernourished children have been looked at for decades, much of that data is outdated. How malnutrition and immune function are related is actually still poorly understood; however, there is wide acceptance that malnutrition comes with a range of immune problems.…

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