CONTEXT: Severe acute malnutrition (SAM) accounts for approximately 1 million child deaths per year. High mortality is linked with comorbidities, such as diarrhea and pneumonia. OBJECTIVE: The aim of this systematic review was to determine the extent to which carbohydrate malabsorption occurs in children with SAM. DATA SOURCES: The PubMed and Embase databases were searched. Reference lists of selected articles were checked. DATA EXTRACTION: All observational and controlled intervention studies involving children with SAM in which direct or indirect measures of carbohydrate absorption were analyzed were eligible for inclusion. A total of 20 articles were selected for this review. DATA SYNTHESIS: Most studies reported carbohydrate malabsorption, particularly lactose malabsorption, and suggested an increase in diarrhea and reduced weight gain in children on a lactose-containing diet. As most studies reviewed were observational, there was no conclusive scientific evidence of a causal relationship between lactose malabsorption and a worse clinical outcome among malnourished children. CONCLUSION: The combined data indicate that carbohydrate malabsorption is prevalent in children with SAM. Additional well-designed intervention studies are needed to determine whether outcomes of SAM complicated by carbohydrate malabsorption could be improved by altering the carbohydrate/lactose content of therapeutic feeds and to elucidate the precise mechanisms involved.
Kvissberg, M. A., Dalvi, P. S., Kerac, M., Voskuijl, W., Berkley, J. A., Priebe, M. G., Bandsma, R. H.