By the time a baby pops out, he/she has already begun gathering the extended family i.e. the gut microflora. The first encounters with the microbial world typically happen, as junior squeezes their way out, head first, down the birth canal. Babies who are lifted out by the gynaecologist, miss out on the traumatic experience, but also miss out on acquiring the “right” friends.
The next big encounter with the microbial world, happens when baby begins being fortified with food, through suckling.
What you eat determines who moves in
Research published in Genome Biology, documents that what baby gets to eat, in those early days, impacts who moves in.
The team used the latest tools, to delve into exactly who had moved in to the guts of 12 full term infants. For each child, the team constructed a portrait of the kinds of bacteria present in a stool sample at 3 months – this type of picture is commonly referred to as a microbiome. It is compiled by using sophisticated tools which “count” the bacteria through their DNA.
Half the stool samples analyzed came from babies who were being breast fed, the other half came from babies who were being fed on formula.
The researchers found that exactly who moved in, varied from one baby to the next.
Overall, breast fed babies had a greater variety of bacteria and ended up with a lot more bacteria from the Actinobacteria and Bacteroidetes families. Formula fed babies acquired bacteria from Firmicutes and Proteobacteria families.
Who moves in determines gut activity
The research team took their analysis one step further, to see how who moved in, impacted on gut activities.
Intestines are lined with a layer of cells known as the epithelial cells. These cells are continually being sloughed off and replaced, so baby pooh has more than just bug DNA, it has human nucleic material too.
Gut activities were measured using high tech analysis which picked up RNA molecules. RNA molecules reflect which genes are actually turned on at that particular moment – this type of analysis is referred to as a transcriptome.
Once again significant differences were found between breast fed and formula fed infants.
More bacteria switch on the immune system
Breast fed babies were meeting and greeting a lot more types of bacteria.
To deal with all these new and interesting visitors, their immune systems were very busy. A whole host of immune response genes were switched on.
Busy immune systems
At first glance, an immune system which is firing on all cylinders sounds like HARD WORK. And let’s face it, working hard is not something that sounds like lots of fun and something you want your little one to be doing.
BUT, one of the benefits of HARD WORK, is that you don’t get up to TOO MUCH mischief. And in the case of the immune system, this ends up being a really good thing.
Immune systems that are a little bored, because they don’t have enough to do, have a tendency to lose the plot a little and start to attack HOME BASE, instead of the BAD GUYS. When the immune system does this, the “victim” is more likely to end up with an auto-immune problem. The problem could be an allergy to peanuts or something more sinister, like type I diabetes, asthma or multiple sclerosis.
Invite good friends to the GUT
If you can – BREAST FEED your little one.
The bacteria that move in initially, will shape the health of your child for the rest of their lives – by priming their immune system and setting their metabolic switch. They might even determine who your child marries.
Breast milk – REALLY is BEST.
PS. I know doing it and GOING TO WORK can be tough, but modern technology can help make it happen. Just make sure you get the timing right. The benefits to your child’s health long-term, make it worth the extra effort.A Metagenomic Study of Diet-Dependent Interaction Between Gut Microbiota and Host in Infants Reveals Differences in Immune Response. Genome Biology(2012) 13(4) r32. Scott Schwartz, Iddo Friedberg, Ivan V Ivanov, Laurie A Davidson, Jennifer S Goldsby, David B Dahl, Damir Herman, Mei Wang, Sharon M Donovan and Robert Chapkin.
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