The genesis of the gut microbiota
The digestive system of our little ones (like ours) is home to trillions of gut bacteria with the exact makeup as unique as our fingerprints. These bacteria influence gastrointestinal function, nutrient absorption, and the development and activity of your little one’s immune system. So how do our babies get these bacteria in their gut, what happens if they end up with disordered gut flora and what can be done if they do?
In the not so distant past it was widely agreed that the digestive system of unborn infants was sterile and that the genesis of their microbial population began with their birth. However, research now suggests otherwise. Microbial colonization of the gut is now thought to take place much sooner, before the baby has even taken its first breath.
Ground-breaking information suggests that the unborn baby swallows amniotic fluid in the birth canal containing flora translocated from the mother’s gut, thereby “seeding” the gut of the baby; well before it is even born. Unfortunately if the mother’s flora is imbalanced due to poor diet, stress or antibiotic use this may be passed on to the infant before he or she is even born. This provides good reason to supplement with a quality, clinically trialled probiotic during pregnancy, both for mums health and indeed, it is now known, for that of the unborn baby.
Although the pre-birth period is very important for the initial inoculation of flora, most experts agree that gut colonization is most heavily influenced by the method of delivery, with vaginal delivery resulting in significantly faster and more diverse beneficial gut flora. Conversely, infants born by caesarean tend to be colonised by a mixture of potentially pathogenic bacteria found in the skin and in hospitals, such as Staphlococcus and Acinetobacter. This can potentially have far reaching implications for digestive function and also have a lifelong impact on immune function, as gut bacteria essentially talk to and train the immune system. This may go partway to explaining why people born by caesarean are more likely to develop an overactive, less tolerant immune system resulting in increased rates of asthma, eczema, allergies and other autoimmune diseases.
Breastfeeding also promotes the assimilation and growth of more beneficial species of flora such as Bifidobacterium while formula feeding tends to result in the proliferation of more of the other more pathogenic species from the environment such as Clostridium making formula fed babies more likely to suffer from diarrhoea and colic.
In reality, there will always be the need for caesarean births, mothers that cannot or do not wish to breastfeed and mums that have poor diets, are stressed or have taken antibiotics. For this reason there will always be babies that have less than ideal gut flora populations and the potential for gastrointestinal and immune system dysfunction. Fortunately, in the last decade there has been more and more research suggesting that supplementing infants with specific strains of beneficial flora (probiotics) can confer benefits for infants who, for whatever reason, may be suffering the consequences of poor gut flora.
The World Health Organization’s definition of probiotics is “live micro-organisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health beneﬁt on the host”. Probiotics are seen to work via several mechanisms, amongst them; they take up room on the gut wall, thereby physically forcing out pathogenic bacteria, they also use up all the available food, thereby starving them out. Probiotics may also change the pH of the gut thereby promoting an environment more suited for the growth of the good guys rather than the bad. All of these mechanisms, theoretically, should add up to reduced inflammation in the gut, better gut health and ultimately a more competent immune function.
And it seems that it does; research has shown that supplementing infants with specific probiotic strains (Bifidobacterium lactis BB12) may confer huge benefit by providing support for:
- the growth of beneficial gut flora in babies born by caesarean or those that are not breastfed
- healthy regular bowel frequency and bowel motion consistency
- healthy resistance to tummy infections
- babies with tummy troubles and irritability
- optimal immune function
- healthy resistance and recovery from ills
- a balanced immune response, reducing scratchy skin and wheezy lungs
- a favourable environment for the absorption of nutrients
As you can see, the research is there; probiotics can support the gut and immune health of infants. That said, if you do intend on giving a probiotic to infants, it must be a strain that has been clinically researched to provide benefits in infants, must be tested for possible contaminants and should not contain superfluous fillers, colours or flavours.
So if your child was born by caesarean, not breastfed or if indeed they did come into the world the traditional route but still have tummy troubles, irritability, frequent ills and chills, itchy scratchy skin or wheezy breathing then it would be in your best interests to support their budding gut with some clinically researched probiotic super seeds to help them start off their lives the right way.
by Rachel Dawson Dip Nutrition Dip Herb Med (Hons)
Senior Naturopathic Consultant Health & Herbs International Ltd
Radiance Pro-B Baby Drops provide Bifidobacterium lactis BB-12, a well-documented, stable and effective, dairy-free probiotic with proven safety, manufactured in Europe to the highest standards. Buy it now from our secure on-line shop.
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