Bugging your kids may turn out to be the right
thing to do if they're living with HIV. Cornell University research
has found that 13 HIV positive children experiencing "failure to thrive"
-- meaning that, for their age, they were low in weight and short in
height -- improved when given probiotic (beneficial) bacteria in a fruit
juice drink. The bug called Lactobacillus plantarum 299v -- a
bacterium normally found in the gastrointestinal tract and a cousin
of the acidophilus found in yogurt -- was chosen because it would reproduce
well. As it grows, it pushes out such harmful organisms as Candida
albicans (the cause of yeast infections such as thrush). The end
result, hypothesizes Cornell immunologist Susanna Cunningham-Rundles,
PhD, is a helpful retuning of the immune system. "The microorganisms
you take orally affect your immune response, probably via the effects
on cytokines [immune-system messenger chemicals]." And with this push
toward immune normalization in children comes improved growth.
In this placebo-controlled trial, researchers
found that kids who sipped the bacteria drink had statistically significant
increases in height (considered the best measure of "failure to thrive"
in HIV positive children; see "Commanding Heights") during each month
of the five-month study. Significant weight gain was seen in two of
the monthly measurements. In addition, those previously suffering from
thrush -- the fungal overgrowth in the mouth that can cause pain and
difficulty eating -- saw the problem disappear. Children were given
packets of the powdered plantarum bacteria and instructed to
mix half a packet in half a cup of juice or water and drink it twice
daily. Since the powder has little taste and can be mixed with a kid's
favorite juice, no noses were turned up at the bacterial blend. Although
the study used a Swedish product not available in the U.S., Cunningham-Rundles
says that other probiotic Lactobacillus products such as Culturelle
tablets could be substituted. Gee, kids, this may be the only time your
mom tells you to eat bugs.