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Restoring Gut Health in Infants

Restoring Gut Health in Infants

Our gut microbiome is critical to good health. An infant’s microbiome is established through swallowing amniotic fluid, traversing the birth canal (Which is why babies born by C-section have a less diverse microbiome), breast feeding, and skin-to skin contact. As we grow, the microbiome changes for the better and for the worse, influenced by diet, disease, antibiotic use, stress, and exposure to new organisms.

New research reveals exciting advances in restoring a healthier microbiome in the gut of infants. Researchers have been able to permanently restore missing organisms in infants’ digestive tract. Previous attempts to “colonize” good bacteria in human gut have failed; the population of the microorganism returned to its previous state. Scientists are excited about the opportunity to permanently colonize good bacteria to reduce allergies, immune disorders, and other diseases, including obesity.

Researchers found that infants in developed countries lacked a bacteria needed to digest important carbohydrates, called glycans, in breast milk. The bacteria B. infantis, a subspecies of Bifidobactea longum, is super-efficient at breaking down these glycan structures and used to be the most prevalent microbe in the infant microbiome. Besides the frequent use of antibiotics, using infant formula instead of breast feeding has all but eradicated B. infantis from the microbiomes of mothers and infants. The radical changes in infants’ gut microbiome may be responsible for the recent upsurge of some diseases, especially those linked to the immune system and hormonal responses.

The researchers introduced B. infantis into infants’ GI tracts by having breast feeding mothers supplement the bacterium while nursing. The exciting news is that the B. infantis continued to grow in the infants’ gut after the supplementation ended. The short course of probiotic supplementation resulted in colonization, perhaps because the probiotic microbe was paired well with its food source, the glycans in breast milk. The ability to cause permanent changes in the types and amounts of particular bacteria in the gut could lead to new medical treatments.

The big question now is whether changing the intestinal microbiota in newborn babies can reverse the steady increase in diseases associated with alterations in the intestinal microbiota, such as asthma, atopic dermatitis, diabetes, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and obesity.


Frese SA, Hutton, AA, Contreras, LN, Shaw, CA, Palumbo, MC, Casaburi, G, Underwood, MA (2017). Persistence of Supplemented Bifidobacterium longum subsp. infantis EVC001 in Breastfed Infants. mSphere, 2(6), e00501–17.

Henrick BM, Hutton AA, Palumbo MC, Casaburi G, Mitchell RD, Underwood MA, Smilowitz JT, Frese SA (2018). Elevated fecal pH indicates a profound change in the breastfed infant gut microbiome due to reduction of Bifidobacterium over the past century. mSphere 3:e00041-18.

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