A study shows babies may be more susceptible to chronic respiratory issues as they grow older because of a lack of healthy gut bacteria early in life, possibly due to several factors that may not have been in play just decades ago.
Through fecal testing, researchers from the University of British Columbia analyzed the gut bacteria of more than 300 infants and discovered that those with lower levels of four specific microbial groups—Faecalibacterium, Lachnospira, Veillonella and Rothia, or FLVR—were more likely to develop asthma by the time they reached their first birthday.
The lack of healthy gut microbes coincides with a dramatic increase in asthma rates among children in Western countries in the last five decades, say researchers. They believe the decline in gut diversity may have to do with several recent factors, such as more C-section births and the widespread shift from breast milk to formula—both of which may prevent infants from getting needed bacteria from their mothers. In addition, antibiotics prescribed during pregnancy can deplete the good bacteria developing babies need.
Based on their findings, the research team wanted to see if supplementing with FLVR could possibly reverse the effects and in turn promote respiratory health. To test their theory, they gave an FLVR supplement to a group of young mice bred with low levels of the favorable bacteria. What they discovered was that the supplement actually protected the animals from developing respiratory issues.
By identifying the specific types of bacteria whose low rates are linked to a higher asthma risk in infants, researchers hope they are one step closer to developing a way for doctors to predict the condition and possibly even prevent it through advanced probiotic treatment. Study co-author Dr. Stuart Turvey says timing is the key. “Having the right bacteria in place at the right time is really important,” he says, “especially in those early months of life.”