Physician Uncovers Clues on Lactose Intolerance and Hunger By
A researcher with the Children's
Nutrition Research Center in Houston, Texas, may have an insight
on a tragic medical mystery that some pediatricians call "paradoxical
re-feeding response." The problem: Some malnourished children die
during treatment instead of being revived.
Buford Nichols, a pediatrician at the Houston center, headed a study
that suggests prolonged hunger in infants may suppress part of the
genetic coding for lactase. This enzyme digests the milk sugar
lactose. Nichols' study is the focus of an article just published in
the medical journal Gastroenterology.
The Houston center is administered jointly by USDA's
Agricultural Research Service
and Baylor College of
Most starving children and infants respond well to international
treatment efforts. But 10 to 20 percent get sicker and die. If
Nichols' findings are validated by other similar studies, they may
generate discussion among physicians on the value of lactose-free
treatments when others don't succeed. This hunger-related intolerance
appears fundamentally different from genetically inherited lactose
intolerance. The difference appears to occur on the cellular level.
The good news: Unlike adult lactose intolerance, this condition is
temporary. It abates after the child receives adequate nutrition.
Nichols found the cellular lactase connection by studying 29 infants
recovering from malnutrition at a clinic at the University of Sao
Paulo in Brazil. The infants had not responded well to re-feeding
formulas, but intestinal biopsies ruled out diseases that might have
Nichols compared tissue samples from the malnourished infants to
those of 10 well-fed infants hospitalized for a life-saving surgery
that required removal of some intestinal tissue. The comparison led
Nichols to his conclusions.
Lactose can come in many forms -- from human breast milk to some
nations' international food- relief products.
USDA's Farm Service
Agency, on the other hand, provides lactose-free corn-soy or
wheat-soy blends for U.S. relief efforts overseas.
Scientific contact: Buford Nichols, ARS
Children's Nutrition Research
Center at Baylor
College of Medicine, Houston, Texas, phone (713) 798-7018, fax
(713) 798-7057, email@example.com.