Urinary Organic Acids Increase After Clinical Stabilization of Hospitalized Children With Severe Acute Malnutrition

Food Nutr Bull. 2019 Dec;40(4):532-543. doi: 10.1177/0379572119853930. Epub 2019 Jul 14.


Background: Despite a reduction of child mortality in low-income countries, acutely ill undernourished children still have an elevated risk of death. Those at highest risk are children with severe acute malnutrition (SAM) who often show metabolic dysregulation that remains poorly understood.

Objective: We performed a pilot study to examine changes in urinary organic acids during nutritional rehabilitation of children with SAM, and to identify metabolites associated with the presence of edema or with mortality.

Methods: This study included 76 children aged between 6 and 60 months, hospitalized for SAM at the Moyo Nutritional Rehabilitation and Research Unit in Blantyre, Malawi. Urine was collected at admission and 3 days after clinical stabilization and metabolomics were performed using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. Metabolite concentrations were evaluated with both uni- and multivariate approaches.

Results: Most metabolites increased 3 days after clinical stabilization, and total urinary concentration changed from 1.2 mM (interquartile range [IQR], 0.78-1.7) at admission to 3.8 mM (IQR, 2.1-6.6) after stabilization (P < .0001). In particular, 6 metabolites showed increases: 3-hydroxybutyric, 4-hydroxyhippuric, p-hydroxyphenylacetic, oxoglutaric, succinic, and lactic acids. Urinary creatinine was low at both time points, but levels did increase from 0.63 mM (IQR, 0.2-1.2) to 2.6 mM (IQR,1.6-4.4; P < .0001). No differences in urinary profiles were found between children who died versus those who survived, nor between children with severe wasting or edematous SAM.

Conclusions: Total urinary metabolites and creatinine increase after stabilization and may reflect partial recovery of overall metabolism linked to refeeding. The use of urinary metabolites for risk assessment should be furthered explored.

Trial registration: TranSAM study (ISRCTN13916953).

Keywords: gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC-MS); nutrition; nutritional rehabilitation unit (NRU); severe acute malnutrition (SAM); urine metabolomics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Carboxylic Acids / urine*
  • Child Nutrition Disorders / mortality*
  • Child Nutrition Disorders / urine
  • Child, Hospitalized / statistics & numerical data
  • Child, Preschool
  • Edema / mortality*
  • Edema / urine
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Malawi
  • Male
  • Pilot Projects
  • Severe Acute Malnutrition / mortality*
  • Severe Acute Malnutrition / urine


  • Carboxylic Acids