The dual sugar test of intestinal permeability is a reliable non-invasive way of assessing the response of the small intestinal mucosa to nutritional rehabilitation. Aim - To compare a local mix of maizes-oya-egg to the standard milk diet in the treatment of kwashiorkor. Design - The diets were alternated three monthly in the sequence milk-maize-milk. There were a total of 533 kwashiorkor admissions of at least five days during the study who received either milk or maize. Intestinal permeability was assessed at weekly intervals by the lactulose-rhamnose test in 100 kwashiorkor cases, including 55 on milk and 45 on the maize diet. Results - Permeability ratios (95% confidence interval) on the milk diet improved by a mean of 6.4 (1.7 to 11.1) compared with -6.8 (-16.8 to 5.0) in the maize group. The improved permeability on milk occurred despite more diarrhoea, which constituted 34.8% of hospital days (29.8 to 39.8) compared with 24.3% (17.8 to 30.8) in the maize group. Case fatality rates for all 533 kwashiorkor admissions were 13.6% v 20.9%, respectively, giving a relative risk of death in the maize group of 1.54 (1.04 to 2.28). The maize group also had more clinical sepsis (60% v 31%) and less weight gain (2.9 v 4.4 g/kg/day) than the milk group. Implications - Milk is superior to a local maize based diet in the treatment of kwashiorkor in terms of mortality, weight gain, clinical sepsis, and improvement in intestinal permeability.
- intestinal permeability