Want a long, healthy life? Start BEFORE you are born: epigenetics, breast feeding, probiotics and more.
In the publication, “Epigenetic Matters: The Link between Early Nutrition, Microbiome, and Long-term Health Development” found in the 5th volume of the journal Frontiers in Pediatrics, Indrio, F., et al describe how the mother’s nutrition, infant diet and gut bacteria, even before the child is born all contribute to health outcomes as the child develops into adulthood. This is a summary and interpretation of their findings.
This study focuses on the idea of epigenetics. Epigenetics is the area of study that means “on top of genetics” and describes the changes that things like environment, bacteria and nutrition can make in your body without even touching your DNA. You get your unique set of DNA, with all the genes (small, coding regions of DNA that determine your appearance and function) it carries from your mom and dad. However, the genes can be flipped on and off, like a light switch. A gene turned on makes a product that can be seen and affects you. A gene turned off, is just sitting there, not making anything. All that makes you who you are is a total result of which of your genes are flipped on.
FIRST 1,000 DAYS
Did you know this flipping on and off of genes starts even before you are born? But, what flips them on and off? It can be the food you eat, the bacteria and microbes living in your gut, or your environment and what you are exposed to. The time of life when this is most active is the “first 1,000 days” from conception until age two. The result of this time period can “pre-set” a person for later development of chronic conditions, including heart disease, obesity, diabetes and much more.
The human gut is the place where microbes, like bacteria, touch and talk to the immune system cells on a constant basis. The intestine is covered with patches of immune cells. During the first years, this
interaction teaches the immune system where the healthy “middle” is. Too much of a response by the immune system, and the body suffers from inflammation. Too little of a response and infection can take over. In general, babies do not have very many species of bacteria living in their gut. This is something they pick up as they eat, are touched by care-givers and interact with their environment. In the first years, the species change and are shaped more easily. Over a span of three years though, you start to see the bacterial species in the gut stabilize. There is less change. At this point, you get what you get, for the most part.
MOM’S GIFT OF BACTERIA
So, where does a baby get the bacteria that lives in their gut and makes such an impact during these first two years, and even beyond? We now know that it begins in the womb, from the amniotic fluid, the placenta and the mother’s own gut microbes. During the birthing process, the baby picks up bacteria either from the birth canal or the mother’s skin during a C-section. After birth, bacteria are naturally passed from the mother, father or any other care giver as they kiss, hold and cuddle the infant.
At birth, children born vaginally get a large dose of the “good” gut bacteria including, Lactobacillus. This is the foundation of a healthy digestive tract that can last a lifetime. Children born by C-section delivery get a first-dose of skin bacteria, not good-gut bacteria. This has been shown to result in increased rates of asthma, juvenile arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease. Similarly, early doses of antibiotics affect the types of bacteria living in the infant gut. This can result in increases in asthma, type I diabetes and irritable bowel disease. Children who suffer from Chron’s disease have been found to have low levels of the good bacteria, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria.
One of the most striking findings is the impact of human breast milk on the health of the infant. It has been found that breast milk has proteins that attach to bad, inflammatory bacteria in the intestines, blocking their effects. It also feeds the growth of good bacteria in the gut, which can then protect the child from infections and pro-inflammatory diseases, like asthma and allergies later in life. Breastfeeding, even for a short time, can protect the child from the risk of obesity in adolescence. It has even been shown to result in lower total blood cholesterol and LDL as the child ages! How’s that for a gift?
Probiotic use, like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria, in mothers during the last weeks of pregnancy, and infants in the first six months of life has been shown to protect the child from atopic dermatitis (eczema) for the first seven years of life and possibly longer! It is possible that immune system programming by the gut is positively affected during this time period. Scientists think this programming even starts in utero, before the baby is born!
If you would like to read more, here is the reference and link to the scientific publication this blog is based on:
Indrio, F., Martini, S., Francavilla, R., Corvaglia, L., Cristofori, F., Andrea, S, … Loverro, G. (2017). Epigenetic Matters: The Link between Early Nutrition, Microbiome, and Long-term Health Development. Frontiers in Pediatrics, 5 (178). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5572264/
Kenda Rigdon, Ph.D. Nutrition Sciences Research Associate, Wife, Mother of 3 and Enthusiast for all things Microbiome and gut related!
Check out this blog in the April, 2018 edition of the Birmingham Metro magazine: b-metro.com/b-yourself-kenda-rigdon/34337/
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