A healthy microbiome—the tens of millions of microorganisms that live in our intestines, our respiratory tract and on our skin—can set the stage for extraordinary health. However, any disturbances in the microbiome can have adverse health effects, including future ones.
More specifically, researchers have begun to highlight the importance of a healthy microbiome for both expectant Moms and for their babies, citing that any disruptions to microbiota early in life could influence the risk of disease occurring later in life. For instance, a recent study reported that an increase in gut bacteria richness at three months of age was associated with a reduced risk for food allergies when the child reaches one year of age.
These findings are among others pointing towards similar discoveries and were so significant that the researchers reviewed a collection of studies in a special issue of Birth Defects Research Part C: Embryo Today titled The Microbiome and Childhood Diseases. One of the scientists, Dr. Meropol, stated, “Disturbed microbiota could potentially contribute to a wide range of childhood diseases including allergies, asthma, obesity and autism-like neurodevelopmental conditions.”
Meropol also references several recent studies that indicate that other factors may help a child’s microbiome development, including breastfeeding (which helps infants grow friendly gut bacteria), vaginal birth and skin-to-skin contact directly after birth.
And while it is a popular belief that the development of microbiota begins at birth and that the womb is a sterile environment, recent studies challenge that idea, saying that gut microbiota development begins before birth—while the baby is still in the womb.
As an example, in a review called “Microbial Programming of Health and Disease Starts During Fetal Life,” research points towards the offspring of mothers with allergies who have more Enterobacteriaceae bacteria in their earliest stools, which may increase their risk of later-life respiratory difficulties.
Dr. Meropol points out, “This means that not only do we have to consider the microbiome of the child but also that of the mother, and the irony is that some of our modern medical practices, through their effects on these early microbiota, could have unintended consequences, interfering with normal development of children’s immune, metabolic and neurologic systems.”
Some of those “modern medical practices” Meropol refers to includes Cesarean section, antibiotic use, immunizations and formula feeding—all of which can negatively impact the early microbiome.
Dr. Meropol believes that these initial findings have only “scratched the surface” of this important topic. She emphasizes the need to “better understand these complex changes in infant developmental and molecular physiology. Protecting and repairing the developmental processes of the healthy infant microbiome is the modern medical frontier.”
That said, you can bet there will be more research on this, so stay tuned.
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