Low Blood Protein May Mean Infection, Not Malnutrition
By Jill Lee
December 2, 1997
Doctors generally interpret a low level of a blood protein called
transferrin to mean a child or elderly person suffers from
Recent findings from nutritional research indicate low transferrin
can point to another culprit: infection due to poor sanitation.
Inadequate water and sewer sanitation facilities can be sources of
intestinal flu and bacterial and other infections.
Nutritionist Farook Jahoor of the
Research Center in Houston, Texas, led the study. The center is
a cooperative facility of USDAs
Agricultural Research Service and
Baylor College of Medicine.
Jahoor was part of a research team that included Terrence Forrester
and John Morlese of the University
of the West Indies in Jamaica. They examined infected and
severely malnourished children at the universitys
Metabolism Research Unit in Kingston, Jamaica. Their finding
that infection can lower transferrin--and mislead health workers--is
as important for agencies serving Americas poor as for those
conducting international relief efforts.
Study findings were published this summer in Journal of
Scientists have long known that many children worldwide suffer from
protein-energy malnutrition, or PEM. They get enough calories to
survive, but their diets are low in protein. Infections can tip the
nutritional scales against these children. They reduce the childrens
appetites and tax available calories to fight illness,
leading to malnutrition.
This infection connection can be sneaky. A child will seem healthy
until a repeated--but undiagnosed--infection uses up stored nutrients.
Then classic hunger symptoms develop, possibly confounding the
pediatrician and parents. According to the Houston research centers
study, transferrin levels now used are not a good indicator of protein
Scientific contacts: Farook Jahoor, ARS
Research Center, Department of Pediatrics, Baylor College of
Medicine, Houston, Texas, phone (713) 798-7084, fax (713) 798- 7119,