Deficiencies in amino acids associated with childhood growth disorders in Malawi

Deficiencies in amino acids associated with childhood growth disorders in Malawi

Deficiencies in amino acids associated with childhood growth disorders in Malawi

A lack of amino acids [1]  and choline [2]  may delay the growth of children more than previously thought. Scientists at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore derive this assessment from blood sampling analysis of 313 rural Malawi children aged 12-59 months. The children were not acutely malnourished and did not suffer from congenital or chronic diseases or diarrhea. However, two-thirds of them were far too small for their age and stunted according to WHO criteria for growth. Compared with the normally developed peers, the blood of 80% of the stunted children contained amino acids in excessively low concentration. Accordingly, the level of all nine essential amino acids, such as isoleucine, valine, methionine, leucine, tryptophan, lysine, phenylalanine, threonine and histidine, which infants are unable to produce themselves, was between 15-20 % too low. There was also a lack of six cell-wall-forming sphingolipids, whose deficiency impairs, for example, the development of the central nervous system in children. The blood analyzes also indicate that choline was inadequately supplied through the diet. From the scientists’ point of view, the lack of these micro-substances could create a nutrient sensor that slows down the synthesis of proteins and lipids and thus prevents cellular growth. The lack of amino acids and choline have been little considered in nutritional concepts against stunting so far and may be one reason why even extensive action against stunting has not yet been successful.

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RD Semba et al. (2016): Child Stunting is associated with Low Circulating Amino Acid. In: EBio Medicine 6, 246-252. Available at


[1] Amino acids are the basic building blocks of proteins and serve to build up body tissue. Besides providing energy if necessary, proteins are also attributed to regulatory functions, such as in cell and bone structure, in hormone and enzyme formation, as well as in the cardiovascular and the immune system.

[2] Choline is a semi-essential nutrient that can be produced by the body, if adequate protein intake is provided. It is an important component of the cell walls and thus also involved in body length growth. Since it is mainly contained in animal foods, deficiencies occur especially among poor families in low-income countries.

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