Healthy microbiomes make smarter babies

I’ve been fascinated by gut bacteria for many years. So much so I even wrote a book on it, called Boost Your Health with Bacteria. And this approach has served me well in my practice.

Practically every patient who walks into my office shows up with subpar gut health — whether they’re aware of it or not. And a lot of times, a simple “microbiome bootcamp” (consisting of my recommended two-week detox, dietary changes, and probiotic supplementation) is all it takes for their symptoms — whatever they are — to miraculously improve, or even disappear altogether.

That’s how much influence good bacteria can have. And luckily for us all, conventional medicine is finally starting to catch on to this vital connection.

Much to my delight, new research on the gut is coming out every day now. And as this latest study shows, the sooner everyone gets on board, the better. Because as it turns out, your bacterial population starts making its mark from the very moment you’re born.

And it’s a big one, too: Researchers assessed the microbiome composition of a group of one-year-old subjects. Then at age two, they assessed for cognitive development, using a combination of brain imaging and gross motor, fine motor, visual reception, expressive language, and receptive language testing.

Lo and behold, results revealed that the babies’ scores on cognitive tests traced directly back to the bacterial populations colonizing their guts in their first year of life.

Specifically, the children whose microbiomes had large populations of Bacterioides (anaerobic bacteria that assist in breaking down food and providing valuable nutrients and energy) showed the highest cognitive performance at two years old — despite no significant differences between the groups a year earlier.

This group of babies was also more likely to be breastfed at one year. And was less likely to have been born via c-section. But one characteristic they didn’t have was a more diverse microbial population.

This came as a surprise to researchers. They assumed (understandably) that the same rules that apply to adults — for whom diversity is the key to unlocking the benefits of a healthy microbiome — would apply to babies as well. But it appears as though, in this case, the reverse is true.

Apart from that detail, though, there’s really nothing surprising about this finding at all. A child’s first year of life is a period of rapid brain development. It’s also a crucial time for microbial colonization of the gut.

Previous research on animals has shown that microbiota can directly affect neurological function — from communication behaviors to cognitive development. This latest finding just confirms a relationship in humans, too.
And if I may add my own two cents, it also calls into question the wisdom of bombarding young bodies with an arsenal of vaccines from the minute they’re born.

I simply can’t imagine that receiving 32 vaccinations — the number required by law where I live in New York — prior to the age of one helps establish little microbiomes. (To say nothing of the potential effects on neurodevelopment.) And I certainly can’t be the only doctor who thinks that delaying this unnecessarily aggressive schedule could have a hugely positive impact on childhood health.

At the very least, I hope that this latest finding gets in front of as many pediatricians and parents as possible.

We may not have specialized probiotic supplements for babies. (At least not yet.) But strategies like breastfeeding and vaginal delivery — both of which offer distinct advantages to an infant’s microbiome — clearly do make a difference.

And it’s one that will continue to serve your child for years to come.

P.S. I recently touched upon the importance of a healthy gut and how you can ensure yours is in good health. (You can even test your microbiome levels in the comfort of your home.)
The article (“Is your ‘second brain’ in good health?”) was featured in the January 2018 issue of my monthly newsletter, Logical Health Alternatives. You can access it by logging into my website, with your username and password. Not yet a subscriber? Sign up here!