Gut bacteria in infants for life-long health

By Dr Lisa Stinson : ABC Science Show  23 January 2022 

Image courtesy of Dr Lisa Stinson : ABC Science Show

"..  noncommunicable diseases are responsible for 7/10 deaths, and because they tend to have quite a chronic nature, this means they inflict a really long-term burden, not just on the individual but also on the healthcare system and the economy. 

And so noncommunicable diseases all share one underlying feature; they are all associated with microbial imbalance and chronic immune dysregulation and inflammation. 

So the microbiome of course is the community of microorganisms that live on and in our body, mostly in our guts, and this community acts as a collaborator in our health.

So what that means is that our ecosystem of microbes within our guts helps to calibrate our immune system and our metabolic system, it digests parts of our food for us, it synthesises vitamins for us, and it even influences our brain and behaviour ... so researchers are interested in targeting the microbiome in order to prevent or treat noncommunicable diseases.

But there's a problem. So, it turns out it's actually incredibly difficult to meaningfully alter the adult gut microbiome, and so that's why my research is focused on the early life gut microbiome ..  because by the time you reach about age three to four your microbiome and is kind of set.. 

And so I like to say that we are born sterile-ish, so that means that we are certainly exposed to microbes within the womb, but that is absolutely nothing compared to the massive onslaught of microbes that we are confronted with during the birthing process and the immediate postnatal period.

And so, as soon as you're born, pretty much every bug on the block is competing to colonise your juicy, warm insides.

So all of a sudden you've got this ecosystem that is really rich and fertile but doesn't have any species of plants or animals in it. And so of course what happens next is you get this massive influx of different species, all competing to try to colonise this new ecosystem. 

And so this early life period is an incredibly dynamic and unstable period, and your guts are incredibly plastic during this time, which means that early life experiences such as antibiotic use, being breastfed, mode of delivery, whether or not you grow up with a pet in your house, all of these different things influence the way that your gut microbiome takes shape and program the trajectory of your health for the rest of your life.

And so my research is really focused on understanding these early life colonisation dynamics within the infant gut, with the hope of identifying interventions that we could use to optimise the development of the infant gut microbiome to program lifelong health.

And so my hope is that through my work I can find ways to help infants catch a healthy microbiome, and in this way reduce the burden of noncommunicable diseases for the next generation.

It's very difficult to change the adult gut microbiome.. but in infants because it's still quite dynamic and unstable, we can actually modulate their microbiome with probiotics..

Currently in my research I'm looking at things like mums' diet. We have taken a bunch of mums, put them on a controlled diet and seen whether that changes the infant gut microbiome.

We are looking at things like delivery mode, to see whether the caesarean delivery affects the milk microbiome and whether that is what is affecting the infant gut microbiome in these infants.

And also looking at things like early life antibiotic exposure as well. So, for instance, women who give birth via caesarean section are given antibiotics prophylactically. So even though they don't have an infection, we don't give antibiotics for shoulder surgeries or anything else, we just give all women who are delivering by c-section, which is 33% of women in Australia ..

And because mum is the greatest donor of microbes to her infant, that's going to alter the infant microbiome as well. So there are definitely these modulateable risk factors that we can work on."

ABC Science Show transcript : 

https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/scienceshow/gut-bacteria-in-infants-play-a-vital-role-for-life-long-health/13258330

Dr Lisa Stison is guest speaker at the Australian Breastfeeding Association Health Professional Seminar Series 2022 - sponsored by Qiara. 


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