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Gut microbes influence lifelong health

Posted:  Friday, December 04, 2015

Gut microbes continue to spark interest in research circles! While scientists are busy unravelling their effect on health, two recent studies have come up with some startling information on their long-term effects. A Canadian study showed that alterations in the gut microbiome of very young infants may modulate the risk for childhood asthma. Another study by American researchers showed that the gut microbiome was a dynamic environment in which epigenetic changes crucial to the intestinal epithelial stem cells occur during the suckling and complementary feeding periods.

The Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development (CHILD) study, published in the Science Translational Medicine journal, evaluated the stool samples of more than 300 infants aged 3–12 months. The study has been following these children and their families for more than five years.

The researchers of the study showed that the gut microbes in the first 100 days of life were transient in composition, and linked to an increased risk of childhood asthma. The risk was greater among infants with lower amounts of bacterial genera like Lachnospira, Veillonella, Faecalibacterium and Rothia.

However, the gut microbiome composition was influenced by antibiotic use. Dr. Stuart Turvey, a paediatrician at British Columbia Children’s Hospital and the University of British Columbia said, “The data absolutely suggest that antibiotics, and particularly multiple courses, in the first year of life are associated with increased risk of asthma.” He advocated the cautious use of antibiotics in infants and said that, “In that first 100 days, the structure of the gut seems to be important in influencing the immune responses that cause or protect us from asthma.”

The second study, published in the journal Genome Biology, found that the intestinal epithelial stem cells regulated the intricate process of rejuvenation of the intestinal epithelium. The animal model of the study found that DNA methylation played a regulatory role in the intestinal epithelial stem cells during the suckling and weaning phases.

Although these findings are yet to be confirmed in humans, they pave the way for identifying the early environmental factors contributing to gastrointestinal diseases, and possibly reversing those using probiotics. Dr. Robert Waterland, an associate professor of paediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine, who was involved in the study, summarized the implication of this study, “This promises some exciting opportunities to understand how we might be able to tailor one’s microbiome exposure during infancy to maximise health and reduce gastrointestinal disease throughout life.”

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