Cessation of exclusive breastfeeding and seasonality, but not small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, are associated with environmental enteric dysfunction: A birth cohort study amongst infants in rural Kenya
Background: Environmental Enteric Dysfunction (EED) is a chronic intestinal inflammatory disorder of unclear aetiology prevalent amongst children in low-income settings and associated with stunting. We aimed to characterise development of EED and its putative risk factors amongst rural Kenyan infants. Methods: In a birth cohort study in Junju, rural coastal Kenya, between August 2015 and January 2017, 100 infants were each followed for nine months. Breastfeeding status was recorded weekly and anthropometry monthly. Acute illnesses and antibiotics were captured by active and passive surveillance. Intestinal function and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) were assessed by monthly urinary lactulose mannitol (LM) and breath hydrogen tests. Faecal alpha-1-antitrypsin, myeloperoxidase and neopterin were measured as EED biomarkers, and microbiota composition assessed by 16S sequencing. Findings: Twenty nine of the 88 participants (33%) that underwent length measurement at nine months of age were stunted (length-for-age Z score <-2). During the rainy season, linear growth was slower and LM ratio was higher. In multivariable models, LM ratio, myeloperoxidase and neopterin increased after cessation of continuous-since-birth exclusive breastfeeding. For LM ratio this only occurred during the rainy season. EED markers were not associated with antibiotics, acute illnesses, SIBO, or gut microbiota diversity. Microbiota diversified with age and was not strongly associated with complementary food introduction or linear growth impairment. Interpretation: Our data suggest that intensified promotion of uninterrupted exclusive breastfeeding amongst infants under six months during the rainy season, where rainfall is seasonal, may help prevent EED. Our findings also suggest that therapeutic strategies directed towards SIBO are unlikely to impact on EED in this setting. However, further development of non-invasive diagnostic methods for SIBO is required. Funding: This research was funded in part by the Wellcome Trust (Research Training Fellowship to RJC (103376/Z/13/Z)). EPKP was supported by the MRC/DfID Newton Fund (MR/N006259/1). JAB was supported by the MRC/DFiD/Wellcome Trust Joint Global Health Trials scheme (MR/M007367/1) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (OPP1131320). HHU was supported by the NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre (IS-BRC-1215-20008).