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Digestive Health and Wellness

Children’s Gut Bacteria May Set the Stage for Their Future Health

Photo: Courtesy of Kelly Sikkema

For fighting infections and fending off diseases such as diabetes and asthma, infant gut health plays a major role.

Researchers are increasingly studying how a community of diverse bacteria that develop during an infant’s first few weeks of life has the potential to influence their future health.

How a child is delivered and fed can affect their gut microbiome.According to a 2018 article in Nature, babies delivered by Caesarian section (C-section) can miss out on exposure to beneficial microorganisms in the mother’s vaginal tract. Similarly, the article noted, breast milk contains potentially protective microbes from the mother’s gut.

In turn, babies born too soon may suffer from gut inflammation (clinically called necrotizing enterocolitis), which is the leading cause of death in preemies. Why? The reasons are numerous and include the tendency to be delivered by C-section; given a strong course of antibiotics; and housed in sterile incubators made of plastic, allowing for minimal human skin contact. Scientists are exploring ways to rebalance microbes in these babies to prevent gut inflammation.

By around toddlerhood, an individual’s gut microbiome looks like that of an adult’s. Don’t clean your home too much or freak out if your dog licks your child. Exposure to bacteria from these types of sources can promote a healthy gut.

The gut is part of the body’s first-line defense against illness. According to Danone Nutricia Research, a person’s gut microbiome and immune system are tightly connected. Indeed, the inside lining of the gut, called the epithelium, is home to 70 to 80 percent of the body’s immune cells. This lining helps guard the body from intestinal invaders in early life and aids development of a healthy gut microbiome, which may offer protection from illness for years to come.

A healthy brain depends on a healthy gut. Called the gut-brain axis, the relationship between the brain and gut is a complex one, affecting metabolism, immunity, and hormonal and neurological health, noted Danone Nutricia. Therefore, having a balanced gut is critical for normal brain development.

For preventing a gamut of diseases, gut health may hold clues.According to a 2014 article in the journal Pathogens, there is a wealth of early research on the potential effects of an imbalanced gut on risk for diseases such as autoimmune conditions, including celiac disease and type 1 diabetes, along with the skin condition atopic dermatitis, and asthma, and allergies. Authors point out that early exposure to antibiotics, supplementation with probiotics and prebiotics, and feeding approaches may all have an impact on gut health.

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