Parenthood

The bacteria in a child's gut appears to be influenced as early as its first year by their ethnicity and breastfeeding, according to new research emerging from Canada.

The study, recently published in Genome Medicine, analysed stool samples from 173 white caucasian and 182 South Asian one-year-olds recruited from two birth cohort studies (CHILD and START), which are co-ordinated at McMaster University.

Analysis of the samples revealed ethnicity and breastfeeding practices independently affect the gut microbiota at one year of age. Interestingly, there was a higher abundance of lactic acid bacteria in South Asians and a higher abundance of clostridia in caucasians.

Jennifer Stearns, the study's first author and assistant professor of medicine at the university, says understanding the  the gastrointestinal tract of infants can play a key role in preventative health care in the future:

"Our study looks at the microbial population in the gastrointestinal tract of infants at a formative stage of life when metabolic set points are being established.

We know that microbial communities are influenced by genetics, food and lifestyle, which are factors that we considered here. We also know that all three of these are strongly influenced by ethnicity."

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In recent years, gut bacteria has emerged as a potentially important contributor to the development of non-communicable diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, allergies, inflammatory bowel disease and colon cancer.

Although stable gut bacteria (called microbiota) is not established until one to three years after birth, infant gut bacteria seems to be an important indicator of immune function, nutrient metabolism and can offer protection from disease-causing pathogens.

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