Have you ever wanted to be a fly on the wall of some conversation, listening in? Well, researchers are trying to do just that as your sweet little baby’s poop sends messages to his or her developing brain.
Research methods over recent decades have allowed scientists to “see” so many more bacteria in our guts and how they interact with our bodies. Regardless of age, balances or imbalances in our colons
affect our moods, our autoimmune diseases, and so much more. For functional MD’s who care of children, we get worked up about this poopy research when we see how it can so profoundly impact future generations. Wee also want to know what the bacteria in your baby’s colon are saying to their
An article from 2017, in Nursing Research by Yang, Irene et al, serves to describe both what areas of an
infant’s health may be impacted by the gut bacteria present and how the bacteria speak different
languages to their human hosts. In theirown words’ “growing evidence suggests the gut microbiome
exerts influence over a range of developmental indices, from cognition to anxiety, mood, and sociability
(Borre et al., 2014; Moloney, Desbonnet, Clarke, Dinan, & Cryan, 2014)”. Much of the initial research has been conducted in rat models, but correlational studies have linked to abnormal but bacterial balance.
The variety of common languages these two disparate systems speak contribute to how the gut affets the nervous system development. They communicate through the immune system, the endocrine system, and directly through nerves. Their immune language is primarily through cytokines, immune hormone messengers of sorts. Unfriendly bacteria may induce cytokine production directly leading to inflammation. They may also increase the permeability of the gut protective barrier, i.e. leaky gut, opening the door for more LPS (lipopolysaccharide) from other bad bacteria. This LPS leads to body inflammation and worsened leaky gut, opening the doors even wider.
The brain – adrenal axis serves as another language of communication. The brain influences how much stress hormone, cortisol, spills out into our body but the brain is also affected by this cortisol. Chemicals like LPS mentioned above and others sometimes raise the cortisol level by stimulating inflammation. The brain responds to this higher cortisol and the inflammation with mood changes in adults, but such cortisol increases may have profounder effects in infants. Cognitive abilities may change. Structural alterations may occur. Behavior may be impacted. These endocrine hormone changes need further study to determine what effect they have both in the short and the long term. Besides these intervening means of interaction, the bacteria can talk more directly with the brain through the vagal nerve. This autonomic nerve (involuntary, below awareness) sends such messages directly into the brain. Again, we are only beginning to understand the full impact of these means of communication. We may be a fly on the wall, but our vision is still cloudy and our ears are just making out part of the conversation.
If we still don’t get the whole conversation, how can a functional medicine MD hope to change lives now? Another article in Msphere by Henrick, et al provides some clues that agree with the first article. This second article examined past research that measured the pH (acid base balance) of baby stools from 1926 to recent. They report that the pH has gone from an acidic 5.0 up to a more neutral 6.5. This appears to coincide with a decreasing predominance of Bifidobacterium bifidis in baby stool. This change in acidity indicates that fewer bacteria are producing the tyles of acid molecules in baby colons that are needed for a variety of metabolic processes.
Studies also show that other bacteria are filling in the gaps but not producing the same benefits. What might be causing such changes? Both articles and others they cite look too three primary causes: more C-sections, more antibiotic use, and less breast feeding. They also offer further mechanisms how these bacteria changes may be increasing inflammatory disease later in life.
As researchers continue to dig in to this messy topic, functional MD’s don’t wait on the sidelines for 20 years before applying common sense cutting edge medicine to help their patients. We encourage vaginal deliveries whenever possible and aim to limit peripartum antibiotics unless truly necessary. We work with expecting moms to develop healthy gut microbiomes that they can pass to their infants. As babies grow up, we work to keep their guts healthy with natural options for infection instead of antibiotics. We also do what any good pediatrician should do, encourage breast feeding unless a health condition prohibits it. And for all ages, whether the gut is fit or imbalanced we utilize lifestyle changes to promote microbiomes which lower inflammation, relieve gut symptoms, and aim at healthier more abundant lives for our patients.
Yang, I., Corwin, E. J., Brennan, P. A., Jordan, S., Murphy, J. R., & Dunlop, A. (2016). The Infant
Microbiome: Implications for Infant Health and Neurocognitive Development. Nursing Research, 65(1),
Elevated Fecal pH Indicates a Profound Change in the Breastfed Infant Gut Microbiome Due to
Reduction of Bifidobacterium over the Past Century
Bethany M. Henrick, Andra A. Hutton, Michelle C. Palumbo, Giorgio Casaburi, Ryan D. Mitchell, Mark A.
Underwood, Jennifer T. Smilowitz, Steven A. Frese
mSphere Mar 2018, 3 (2) e00041-18; DOI: 10.1128/mSphere.00041-18
Borre YE, O’Keeffe GW, Clarke G, Stanton C, Dinan TG, Cryan JF. Microbiota and neurodevelopmental
windows: Implications for brain disorders. Trends in Molecular Medicine. 2014;20:509–518. [PubMed]
Moloney RD, Desbonnet L, Clarke G, Dinan TG, Cryan JF. The microbiome: Stress, health and disease.
Mammalian Genome. 2014;25:49–74.