Gut microbiota, beneficial bacteria found in the intestines of humans, are important for a number of reasons relating to overall health. More recently, researchers in Switzerland have found links to how quickly an infant’s gut bacteria matures and the rate at which the baby puts on fat. Those same researchers also found a possible connection to the rate of microbiota maturation and the infant’s length of gestation and the mode of delivery.
“It seems like the early environment, for instance mode of delivery, mode of feeding, the duration of gestation, and living environment, maybe influencing the rate at which babies acquire their gut microbiota,” Joanna Holbrook, senior study author and senior principal investigator at the Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences, told Science Daily. “And that, in turn, has an association with how babies grow and put on body fat.”
For the study, researchers analyzed the stool samples of 75 infants using a laboratory technique called 16s rRNA sequencing at three days old, three weeks old, three months old, and six months old. The infants, all born at term, were a part of the GUSTO (Growing Up in Singapore Toward Healthy Outcomes) study and fell into one of three main ethnic groups in Singapore: Chinese, Indian, and Malay.
In addition to analyzing the samples, researchers investigated the effect of environmental factors, such as delivery mode and duration of gestation, on trajectories of microbial development. They searched for any associative relationships between these factors and the relationship it may have had with the development of body fat.
Results showed that the samples could be classified into three distinct clusters based on when gut microbiota matured. Of the 17 vaginally delivered infants, 16 had a more mature microbiota profile, high in the bacteria Bifidobacterium and Collinsella, by day three. The remaining children took up to six months to develop the same gut microbiata profile. But what was interesting was that, those that had acquired the profile at an earlier age had more typical body fat at the age of 18 months. In contrast, those that developed the same microbiata profile at a later age had relatively low body fat.
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