Tuberculosis and malnutrition: What is the link?

Here is how one fuels the other

TB or tuberculosis and malnutrition for long had been linked. By now we know that they both are interconnected and one fuels the other. TB makes malnutrition worse and vice versa. Here, by malnutrition, we don't mean skinny or refer to people from lower income groups but those who suffer from a deficit of nutrients. It refers to both underweight and overweight people. Here are some FAQs on TB answered by an expert.

How one fuels the other?

People who suffer from active TB experiences severe weight loss which also has an effect on their appetite. A reason why it is specified by doctors to the TB caregiver to see that patients eat healthy and nutritious food. Since they develop an aversion towards the same. Inability to eat adequate food can make them malnourished and make it difficult for the body to fight diseases or a bacterial invasion like the TB bacteria.

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'Malnutrition or dependency on junk both lowers the immunity in kids. Low immunity makes one prone to various diseases and TB too. Kids who are under peer pressure, exam stress impairs their immunity unknowingly. They tend to sleep less, eat less and often indulge in wrong food habits. We have seen many kids fall prey to TB due to these habits,' says Dr Avinash Kate, from Zen Hospital, Mumbai. On the other hand, low immunity makes one susceptible to TB and also various kinds of other ailments. But one reason why people who are undernourished might get TB easily is because it is an airborne disease and one catches such infection easily by just breathing in the infected air. Here is how you get a TB infection.

One way to improve immunity is to up your nutrition quotient by eating healthy daily. Undernutrition or malnutrition weakens the body's ability to fight disease and increases the likelihood that latent TB could develop into active TB disease. Given the burden of TB in India, it is not surprising that many of us (including healthy individuals) might have latent TB. However, this condition sometimes gets resolved on its own without any medical intervention but if one's immunity falls this makes one prone to getting infected with the bacteria. Although there is a clear link between active TB and undernutrition, in no way does malnutrition or undernutrition cause TB on its own. TB is only ever caused by TB bacteria.

TB and malnutrition or undernutrition

There is increasing evidence that undernutrition in patients with active TB is associated with an increased frequency and severity of the disease. The two combined together increases the chances of mortality by two- to- four-fold. There is also a fivefold risk of drug-induced liver damage for patients who are malnourished and suffering from active TB.

A less than ideal weight gain during TB treatment also increases the risk of long-term relapse even after initial cure. Undernutrition has also been associated with malabsorption of key anti TB drugs. So TB and undernutrition can cause a vicious cycle of worsening disease and undernutrition. Here is everything you need to know about tuberculosis in kids.

What can be done?

To address this situation, TB treatment and providing nourishment should go hand in hand. It is necessary to provide the patient with nutritious food to improve immunity and have the anti-TB drugs on time to treat the bacterial infection. A person with TB should aim to have three meals and three snacks each day to increase the amount of food they eat. 'It is necessary that patients don't go off medication or stop treatment mid-way. This not only increases the chances of the TB relapse but makes malnutrition worse due to the medications. So, it is better to stick to the nutritional plan and medication to get treated and help your body develop immunity to fight TB and other deadly diseases,' says Dr Kate.

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