infant gut bacteriaThe importance of our gut bacteria is once again in the news. A new study just published in Cell Host & Microbe found a three-way link among antibiotic use in infants, changes in the gut bacteria, and disease later in life. Imbalances of the gut micro-biome has been associated with infectious diseases, allergies, autoimmune disorders, and even obesity later on in life.

Antibiotics are by far the most common prescription drugs given to children. They account for about 25% of all medications prescribed to children and a third of these prescriptions are considered unnecessary. Previous studies demonstrate associations between antibiotic use changes in gut bacteria, and disease in adulthood.

There has been a sharp rise in the incidence of metabolic and autoimmune disorders over the past several decades. The question is why has there been such a sharp rise of these conditions? The answers may be found in the current medical research, but you would probably never know it by visiting a doctor. This is because there is a big disconnect between medical research and the practice of traditional medicine.

Researchers examined the development of bacteria in the gut and demonstrated that an infant’s age could be predicted within 1.3 months based on the maturity of their gut bacteria. That is pretty amazing. This could lead to interventions for children whose microbiome is developmentally delayed due to antibiotics or other factors as wells as prompt future research to determine the health consequences of antibiotic use and for recommendations for prescribing them.

Another study earlier this year showed changes in the gut microbiota has been associated with autoimmunity. Researchers from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and Mass General Hospital identified a correlation between changes in gut microbiota and the onset of type 1 diabetes in the largest longitudinal study of the microbiome to date. This study is unique because it studied children at high risk of developing type 1 diabetes and then followed what changes in the microbiome shift the balance toward progression to the disease.

Related to obesity, antibiotic-induced changes in the gut microbiota resulted in increased levels of short-chain fatty acids that affect metabolism. There are two predominant bacterial groups in the gut are Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes. Past research has discovered a relationship between the balance of these two groups and obesity. Firmicutes can secrete a compound that results in increased activity of lipoprotein lipase in adipocytes, resulting in enhanced storage of these lipids. The Bacteroidetes are not as efficient in this function; therefore, the balance of these two groups can significantly affect the accumulation of fat stores in the body. Obese individuals may have populations of bacteria that force a more efficient extraction and storage of energy than lean individuals that have a different balance of beneficial bacteria. When Bacteriodetes decrease relative to Firmicutes in the gut, it has been associated with significant accumulation of body fat.

In the case of allergies, the use of antibiotics may wipe out key gut bacteria that help immune cells mature. These cells would have been critical for keeping the immune system in check. There was a study from Canada in February this year that demonstrated how the changes in intestinal bacteria of infants can predict future development of food allergies or asthma. Researchers revealed that infants with a lower diversity of gut bacteria at three months of age are at a higher risk to become sensitized to foods such as milk, egg or peanut by the time they reach one year of age. Also, in this study researchers stated that gut bacterial patterns during infancy can serve as a biomarker for future disease.

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