A New Study Reveals How to Fill a Vital Gap in Infant Gut Health

New research is showing that a specific probiotic bacteria is key to restoring a baby’s gut to its protective, natural state and providing a foundation for life-long optimal health. Mark Underwood, M.D., Chief Pediatric Neonatologist at UC Davis joined Everyday Family’s Shiloh Johnson to discuss the study results and explain how the activated form of this beneficial bacteria can be helpful for babies. 

When babies are born they begin to acquire a collection of bacteria called the microbiome – trillions of microorganisms that co-exist in our bodies and live all over us, on our skin, nose, mouth, eyes, and gastrointestinal tract, or gut. Research shows that the infant gut microbiome plays a critical role in healthy immune and metabolic development, as well as meeting babies’ dietary needs.

Image via Flickr/ andre_anna

B. infantis is a good bacteria that is still very common in healthy babies in developing countries. However, in many developed countries, including the United States, we’re seeing decreasing numbers of this healthy bacteria in the intestines in babies. Dr. Underwood told us that the new Infant Gut Health study found that 9 out of 10 babies were missing B. infantis

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The bacteria in a baby’s microbiome are passed down from their mom at birth. For generations, B. infantis dominated the infant gut. However, modern medical practices, such as increased antibiotic use, formula feeding, and C-sections, have led to a microbial imbalance in the infant gut and a loss of this key bacteria. Since the bacteria is passed down from the baby’s mother, this may indicate that today’s mothers may not have the good bacteria in their systems to be passed down in the first place. This imbalance has been associated with a range of chronic health issues including allergies, asthma, obesity, type 1 diabetes, and a host of immunological disorders.

Dr. Underwood informed us that this study was able to provide some insight into how to restore good bacteria to our little babies. In the study, they randomly assigned healthy, breastfed, term infants to receive a B. infantis probiotic. Another group received no probiotic. The infants were only treated for 21 days. They started taking the probiotic when they were seven days old. They completed the treatment when they were 28 days old. Once they stopped taking the probiotic each group was followed up on to see how the introduction of the probiotic (or lack thereof) affected the infants.

“Historically what you see in probiotic studies,” explained Dr. Underwood, “is you give the product and either you see a small change in the composition of the bacteria in the intestines or no change. But when you stop, everything goes back to the way it was before. For the first time, we see a large-scale change. Their intestinal community became dominated by this one organism and it continued for weeks and months after they stopped the treatment, for as long as they were getting their mom’s milk.” 

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The combination of probiotic and mom’s milk is the key. Dr. Underwood noted, “This particular probiotic we chose was the best consumer of the components in mom’s milk that shape the intestinal community of bacteria.” Now, recently published data shows for the first time that supplementation with activated B. infantis can completely transform the gut environment in babies that are fed breast milk. Along with restoring a healthy gut microbiome, the study results show that the supplementation significantly reduced levels of potentially harmful bacteria linked to disease in infants born either through natural or C-section delivery.

Now, what does this mean for mothers who cannot or choose not to breastfeed? “We don’t have a full answer for that yet,” admitted Dr. Underwood. He went on to say that a promising approach to the future would be to find a way to add these human milk components that healthy bacteria can consume (but unhealthy bacteria cannot consume) into formula.

You can find a link to the study at www.evolvebiosystems.com, as well as more information on Evivo, the probiotic. And, as always, feel free to discuss this with your healthcare provider.

infant gut
Image via Evolve Bio Systems

Bio: Mark A. Underwood MD, MAS, FAAP

Professor of Pediatrics; Chief, Division of Neonatology UC, Davis School of Medicine

Dr. Underwood received his medical training at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas followed by pediatric residency training at UCLA. After 12 years as a pediatrician in Great Falls MT, he and his family went to New Zealand for a year where he provided pediatric care in underserved areas and consultations at the medical school in Hamilton. Upon returning to the U.S. he completed a fellowship in neonatology at UC Davis and then joined the faculty in 2006 and became the chief of the division of neonatology in 2014. He loves working with parents, nurses, pharmacists and other specialists to provide the best care for infants. His research focuses predominantly on necrotizing enterocolitis, human milk and probiotics.  This research includes clinical trials of probiotics and prebiotics in premature infants and studies of promising protective therapies in animal models of necrotizing enterocolitis and pulmonary hypertension. He also enjoys international collaborations and has taught courses to physicians, nurses, and birth attendants across Africa, Central Asia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East.  

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A New Study Reveals How to Fill a Vital Gap in Infant Gut Health

I've lived all over the place! I was born in Hawaii, grew up in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, enjoyed some time in the cities of the Bay Area, and even spent a few years in Arizona. These days I am living in beautiful Colorado and loving it. I live with my husband, baby boy, my mom, and our 5 pets (3 cats, 2 dogs). There's a lot of love in our little condo! A few of my favorite things include: Pretty dresses (especially ones I can wear while breastfeeding/pumping these days.) Tea parties wi ... More

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