Bugs on Board
Researchers are discovering how a baby’s gut microbiome influences its health

November 21, 2019

Did you know that your body is home to a universe of tiny helpers?

It’s true. We have trillions of bacteria and other tiny organisms living on and inside our bodies. These microbes combine to form a network throughout the body called the microbiome. And we’re just beginning to understand the role that the microbiome plays in health and disease.

Evidence is mounting to show that the microbiome behaves almost like another organ. It performs critical functions in the body and when disrupted, the microbiome can contribute to illness or disease.

Most of our microbes live in the human digestive system – or gut – where they play a role in the immune system, digestion, excretion, and preventing infections.

Researchers with the CHILD Cohort Study are showing that the gut microbiome is super important during infancy. These researchers have discovered that alterations in the type and quantity of gut microbes in early life are linked to chronic diseases such as asthma, allergies, and obesity later in childhood.

These microbes can be altered in many ways during pregnancy, childbirth, and the first few months of a child’s life. They can be altered by the way a baby is delivered (c-section or vaginal delivery). They can be altered by what or how a baby is fed (breastmilk or formula; direct breastfeeding or pumped breast milk). They can be altered if a baby is exposed to antibiotics, furry pets, or household cleaning products.

Researchers have also found that babies with low levels of four specific gut bacteria (Faecalibacterium, Lachnospira, Veillonella and Rothia – nicknamed FLVR or “flavour”) in the first three months are more likely to develop asthma. This discovery may lead to a preventative treatment for asthma that could involve supplementation with these bacteria during this critical period in a baby’s life.

This research is shaping our understanding of how a baby’s gut microbiome affects health later in life. By getting the right bugs on board, we may be able to boost a child’s health and reduce the risk of chronic diseases.

The CHILD Cohort Study is a national birth cohort study where researchers are tracking the health of nearly 3,500 Canadian children to find ways to prevent asthma, allergies, obesity and other chronic diseases.

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