The article I read yesterday was a natural follow-on from my last post, about autism and its relationship to perturbations in the gut microbiome. This one was about a double-blind, placebo-controlled study using probiotics to restore normal gut microbiota in infants who were either born via c-section or given antibiotics early in life.[i]
Before I describe the study and its results, I want to list a few of the critical points the paper makes in its opening paragraphs:
This particular study was really very interesting in that these researchers tested the efficacy of this same probiotic mix in a variety of birth situations and their results are pretty incredible.
First, they looked at babies born vaginally who received no antibiotics. The levels of Bifidobacterium breve and Lactobacillus rhamnosus were significantly higher in the supplemented group (up to 10X more in the babies who were breast-fed, less though in the formula fed ones). In the control group (so not supplemented with the probiotic), breast-fed babies still had higher levels of B.breve but not even vaguely as high as those given the supplement, while the un-supplemented formula-fed babies did not have B.breve as a dominant group, “…suggesting that B.breve is a natural colonizer of breastfed infants.”
In fact, they discovered – looking further at the bacteria of these babies – that breast-fed babies had specific differences to the formula-fed ones: “…most of the supplement-induced changes observed in the breast-fed infants were not present in the formula-fed infants. In the breast-fed group, the abundance of lactobacilli was 100% increased and that of bificobacteira 29% increased in response to the supplement.” So breast milk has a huge effect on the colonization of good flora. More on this later.
The scientists went on to test whether or not, using the probiotic, they could ameliorate the alterations in gut flora in babies who were either born via c-section or given antibiotics.
The c-section babies’ microbiota was “…clearly different from the vaginally born infants.” However: “Remarkably, in the supplemented group, birth mode did not have a significant impact on microbiota composition.” Wow.
Next, they tested the effects of antibiotics on the microbiota and whether or not the probiotic could ameliorate any changes. In the probiotic-untreated control group, “…infants who had been treated with one or more antibiotic courses showed a clearly different microbiota composition compared to those that had received no antibiotics.” However, in the experimental (probiotic treated) group, “…antibiotic use did not have significant overall impact.” Double wow.
The results therefore demonstrated that “…most of the antibiotic- and caesarean-associated changes in the faecal microbiota of infants could be corrected or reduced by a probiotic supplementation to mother and infant.” Furthermore, “….breastfeeding together with the probiotic supplementation offer optimal results in terms of supporting the microbiota development in these infants.”
A couple of other items of note:
The article’s conclusion: “Early-life antibiotic treatments and caesarean birth influence a large fraction of the global population and are associated with global epidemic health problems…Therefore, treatments achieving even modest improvements at the level of individuals have the potential to induce great health benefits at the population level.”
As the parent of a son with autism, and a history of inflammatory bowel disease and immune deficiency, who was given antibiotics intravenously for 5 days starting at 36 hours old (and told to stop breast feeding), this kind of research has become tremendously personal to me. Believe me – were I pregnant now, I’d do things very differently than I did 25 years ago…
[i] Korpela, K, et. al. Probiotic supplementation restores normal microbiota composition and function in antibiotic-treated and in caesarean-born infants. Microbiome. 2018:6(182). DOI: 10.1186/s40168-018-0567-4}