Bacteria in a mother’s gut before and during pregnancy can influence the future health of her children.
These findings could see women in the future have their gut microbes tested upon pregnancy confirmation, to determine the prescriptive diet or supplements she needs to obtain a healthy microbiome for her and her infant.
Victorian researchers are among those adding to the growing body of evidence that the universe of bacteria in the digestive system doesn’t just help process food and drink, but can also contribute to immune, digestive and mental health, and obesity and chronic diseases.
Preclinical studies at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, led by Professor Len Harrison, found when mice pups weren’t colonised with their mother’s microbiome at birth, or were born without microorganisms inside them, they developed type 1 diabetes.
“Anything we come into contact with, the microbiome is the first point of entry to the body. Almost everything in the environment affects the microbiome, and therefore your health,” Prof Harrison said. “It’s emerged as an enormously important area for health.”
Prof Harrison, head of WEHI’s population health and immunity laboratory, said the microbiome — transmitted to an infant during vaginal delivery — gave a child more genes than they inherited from their parents.
“At birth, we are colonised by bacteria and other microorganisms that potentially give us million of genes. They are making substances essential for our health,” he said.
Australian researchers have undertaken an observational study of 1400 families to help untangle what triggers type 1 diabetes in such large numbers.
Monash immunologist Professor Charles Mackay said there were two ways to improve gut health: changing diet through “prebiotic food”, the dietary fibres that act as fertiliser for the good bacteria in the gut, and also by introducing new bacteria and probiotic supplements.
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