SimplyThick food thickener, necrotizing enterocolitis, and microbiomes

Wow.  I have not heard anything about this issue until this NY Times article: Warning Too Late for Some Babies –  The article summarizes some recent FDA and other medical warnings about a product called SimplyThick.  This product has been connected to cases of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) in premature infants.  NEC is a horrible horrible ailment with an incredibly high death rate.  I am familiar with NEC mostly because some colleagues at UC Davis are involved in clinical trials to use probiotics and prebiotics as a preventative therapy for NEC (see more on the project here: Premie NEC — Foods For Health Institute and UC Davis Medicine – Helping Premature Infants Thrive).  NEC seems to have some general connection to “microbiome health” although it is not entirely clear (to me at least) whether the connection is correlative or causal in any way.  The NY Times article simple serves to remind me that we seem to know very very little about the connection between diet and general microbe-related health in infants (or for that matter, adults).  We desperately need to accelerate the pace at which we determine / study how foods, food additives, and diet affect our microbial communities …

Lesson of the week from this article is captured in this quote

“You try not to put anything in a baby’s intestine that’s not natural.” If you do, he added, “you’ve got to have a good reason.”

I am not by any means convinced that everything has to be “natural” (I am not sure I even know what that means) but stuffing preemies full with some food thickener simply because it has been marketed to speech pathologists as something to use seems like a pretty bad idea.

Author: Jonathan Eisen

I am an evolutionary biologist and a Professor at U. C. Davis. (see my lab site here). My research focuses on the origin of novelty (how new processes and functions originate). To study this I focus on sequencing and analyzing genomes of organisms, especially microbes and using phylogenomic analysis

One thought on “SimplyThick food thickener, necrotizing enterocolitis, and microbiomes”

  1. Nice blog and I could not agree more. Our study group are currently very interested in the role of the gut microbiota in NEC. We have shown differences between patients with NEC and/or sepsis compared to healthy controls. However, as you say, its difficult to decipher cause and effect. Its interesting to note, however, that NEC cannot occur in a sterile environment. Its also interesting to note the apparent relation between NEC and other inflammatory disorders.



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