Malnutrition as an enteric infectious disease with long-term effects on child development

Nutr Rev. 2008 Sep;66(9):487-505. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2008.00082.x.


Malnutrition is a major contributor to mortality and is increasingly recognized as a cause of potentially lifelong functional disability. Yet, a rate-limiting step in achieving normal nutrition may be impaired absorptive function due to multiple repeated enteric infections. This is especially problematic in children whose diets are marginal. In malnourished individuals, the infections are even more devastating. This review documents the evidence that intestinal infections lead to malnutrition and that malnutrition worsens intestinal infections. The clinical data presented here derive largely from long-term cohort studies that are supported by controlled animal studies. Also reviewed are the mechanisms by which enteric infections lead to undernutrition and by which malnutrition worsens enteric infections, with implications for potential novel interventions. Further intervention studies are needed to document the relevance of these mechanisms and, most importantly, to interrupt the vicious diarrhea-malnutrition cycle so children may develop their full potential.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arginine / administration & dosage
  • Child Nutrition Disorders / complications*
  • Child Nutrition Disorders / genetics
  • Child Nutrition Disorders / therapy
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology
  • Diarrhea / complications
  • Diarrhea / microbiology
  • Diarrhea / parasitology
  • Female
  • Fluid Therapy
  • Glutamine / administration & dosage
  • Growth Disorders / etiology*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infections / complications*
  • Intestinal Diseases / complications*
  • Intestinal Diseases / microbiology
  • Intestinal Diseases, Parasitic / complications
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic


  • Glutamine
  • Arginine