We are not alone. Essential to our health are millions of bacteria in our guts. Collectively termed the gut microbiota, changes in the composition of this microbial community are considered an underlying cause for physiological changes in the body, which can potentially lead to diseases ranging from neuropsychiatric diseases to cardiovascular disease. The developing immune system is highly sensitive to perturbations of the gut microbiome, providing a potential mechanism for the development of asthma in childhood.
In a study published early this year, new connections between the gut microbiome and asthma were made. Using fecal samples from one year old babies, the microbial composition was analysed. Following this, the researchers followed up on these babies up to age five. The results showed significant differences in microbial composition in children that had developed asthma, compared to those who hadn’t. This difference was associated with whether the mother had asthma, indicating that these children are at a higher risk of developing asthma. Lower abundance of certain types of bacteria were present in pre-disposed children at birth, leading the researchers to hypothesise that this is due to delays in microbial development in response to perturbations of the gut microbiome. Causes for perturbed microbiome in the first year of life include caesarean section and antibiotics.
Finally, the researchers suggest that stimulation of the gut microbiome using probiotics could prevent the onset of asthma in children with asthmatic mothers, and who are therefore at a greater risk of developing asthma. However more effective probiotics that target the underdeveloped types of bacteria are yet to be produced.
While for decades the thought of bacteria has incited visions of dirt, uncleanliness and disease, medical science has been making strides towards changing that notion. Bacteria are part of us, and, by harnessing the potential of our gut residents, we are learning that not being alone is a good thing.
Study ref: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-017-02573-2.pdf