Kwashiorkor is a childhood
disorder caused by lack of nutrients, including protein in the diet. The name
is derived from one the Kwa languages of coastal Ghana and means
"the one who is displaced" reflecting the development of the
condition in the older child who has been weaned from the breast once a
new sibling is born.
When a child is nursing, it
receives certain amino acids vital to growth from its mother's milk. When
the child is weaned, if the diet that replaces the milk is high in
starches and carbohydrates, and deficient in protein (as is common in
parts of the world where the bulk of the diet consists of starchy
vegetables, or where famine has struck), the child may develop
Symptoms of kwashiorkor
include a swollen abdomen, reddish discoloration of the hair and
depigmented skin. The child has a miserable appearance with a
"bull-dog" facies. Generally, the disease can be treated by
adding food energy and protein to the diet; however, mortality can be as
high as 60% and it can have a long-term impact on a child's physical
growth and, in severe cases, affect mental development.
There are various
explanations for the development of kwashiorkor, and the topic remains controversial.
It is now accepted that protein deficiency, in combination with energy
and micronutrient deficiency, is certainly important but may not be the
key factor. The condition is likely to be due to deficiency of one of
several type I nutrients (e.g iron, folic acid, iodine, selenium, vitamin
C), particularly those involved with anti-oxidant protection. Important
anti-oxidants in the body that are reduced in children with kwashiorkor
include glutathione, albumin, vitamin E and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Therefore, if a child with reduced type I nutrients or anti-oxidants is
exposed to stress (e.g. an infection or toxin) he/she is more liable to