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The Key to Preventing Infant Deaths from Sepsis Could Be in Your Fridge

probiotics sepsis deaths

[DIGEST: NPR, The Atlantic, The Scientist]

Scientists in India have found a substance that could prevent hundreds of thousands of infant deaths worldwide, and you might have it in your fridge right now.

Fermented vegetables such as kimchi, sauerkraut and pickles are not only inexpensive, they contain an important probiotic, Lactobacillus plantarum, that scientists have found drastically reduces infant deaths from sepsis.

A large-scale study in rural India, begun in 2008 and published in August in Nature, found that feeding infants L. plantarum saw a 40 percent reduction in deaths from sepsis — from 9 percent to 5.4 percent.

Sepsis, an often-fatal immune response to a bacterial infection, is responsible for the deaths of 1 million babies worldwide each year, mostly in developing countries. Dr. Pinaki Panigrahi, a pediatrician at the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Public Health and co-author of the study, had long suspected that gut bacteria may be the key in preventing sepsis, which has become something of an epidemic in India.

“All the sudden the baby stops being active. It stops crying and breastfeeding,” said Dr. Panigrahi. “By the time the mother has a chance to bring the baby to the hospital, the baby dies. In hospitals in India, you see so many babies dying of sepsis, it breaks your heart.”

Dr. Panigrahi and his team set out to test multiple strains of probiotics from various sources.

“We screened more than 280 strains in preliminary animal and human studies,” Panigrahi says. “So it was a very methodical process.”

In the end, it was the humble L. plantarum, a specific bacterium found in

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    Kat Merck is a freelance writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. An amateur naturalist who stud... keep reading