Intestinal Bacteria at Birth: An Uneven Playing Field
No two people have the same fingerprint, right? That’s pretty amazing. What’s even more amazing is that your fingerprint is not the only part of you that is biologically unique. It turns out the bacteria that reside in your gut and are responsible for your health, to a large degree, are as exclusive to you as that fingerprint!
If you’ve read my other articles on gut health and immunity, you’ve likely come across information touting the importance of the probiotics (good bacteria), that reside in our digestive tract. Not only do these microbes help us digest food properly, but our immune system relies heavily upon them to act as the front line to overall health. They help keep the “bad guys” out – you know, the cold viruses, germs from rancid or undercooked food … the list goes on. This is why it is so critically important to keep the gut populated with lots of good bacteria. But is that within our control?
“... as newborns we have very little, if any, control over the initial makeup of bacteria residing inside of us!”
It turns out (not surprisingly), we each are exposed to different bacteria as we come into this world. Some of us were exposed to our mother’s microbes, while others have taken on the bacteria strains of the hospital staff and surroundings. (Phillips, 2009) Why?
Mode of delivery plays a big role when it comes to our unique makeup of gut microflora.
A 2008 study by Biasucci et al. found that the specific microbiota strains that set up house in a newborn’s gut within the first three days of life were dependent on whether the child was delivered via cesarean-section or vaginally. In fact, a very important species of gut bacteria called bifidobacteria was completely missing from the mix in those infants delivered via cesarean section. According to the study, this is because the infant has contact with the mother’s vaginal and intestinal flora as a source for its own initial colonization (the build-up of certain varieties of bacteria) during a vaginal delivery. Cesarean-delivered infants, however, rely upon environmental bacteria since contact with the mother’s flora does not occur. (Biasucci, Benenati, Morelli, Bessi, & Boehm, 2008) I think this is pretty significant information given the ever-increasing number of C-section deliveries these days. And if you’re wondering about the role of nutrition at this point, apparently it has very little, if any, influence on the bacteria population immediately after birth.
Obviously, we humans are not only very different on the outside, but we have differences on the inside that were actually caused by our method of birth! Does this imply that long-term overall health is either strengthened or weakened based on, of all things, how you were delivered into this world? (Phillips, 2009) Perhaps. It actually has been observed that atopic conditions, such as eczema, are more prevalent in those infants delivered via cesarean section as compared to those delivered vaginally. (Biasucci, Benenati, Morelli, Bessi, & Boehm, 2008) Could this be rooted in the differences in gut bacteria?
Don’t worry, C-section babies - you’re not destined for a lifetime of health concerns!
The good news is that, around one year of age the composition of our intestinal bacteria begins to resemble that of an adult, and this is when nutrition and lifestyle start to become influential. So although we don’t begin this life with a whole lot of control, the responsibility for creating a healthy community of bacteria in the gut eventually rests squarely on our shoulders! A healthy diet and lifestyle along with a daily probiotic supplement can do wonders to strengthen our immune system and keep our digestion moving as it should, no matter what the makeup of our gut bacteria looked like at the get-go.
The bottom line: Our unique makeup of gut bacteria begins to affect our immunity literally the minute we open our eyes to this world. Variations in bacterial populations resulting from differences in birth methods creates a bit of an uneven playing field when it comes to an individual’s immune strength. We ultimately gain control over this, however, and can fill in any gaps with a healthy diet and a supplemental probiotic. You can find more information regarding gut health, immunity and probiotics in these related posts:
Best of health and happiness to you!
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