New Research: Western Baby Gut Microbiome is Too Clean

New Research: Western Baby Gut Microbiome is Too Clean post image

The gut microbiome of 200 infants, across 3 countries was evaluated along with their lab tests and history – revealing fascinating observations and conclusions!

The role of the microbiome in health and disease is now the hottest topic in research. A group of researchers, called the DIABIMMUNE Study Group just published the results of a three-country study of the microbiome of 200 infants from birth to age 3. The countries selected were Finland, Estonia and Russian Karelia – an interesting selection.

Karelia is divided between Finland and Russia – east Karelia belonging to Russia and west Karelia to Finland. In this context, Karelia represents the east and more traditional ways of life, in contrast to the western lifestyle and habits of Finland and Estonia.

Associations Found Between Gut Microbiome and Disease in Infants

Stool samples from the infants were taken along with lab tests and histories of breastfeeding, diet, allergies, infections, and family history. This data was evaluated to see if there were associations between disease incidence and the composition of the microbiome.

The results are very interesting.

They found that the gut microbiomes of the Finnish and Estonian infants were dominated by Bacteroides species, while Russian Karelian infants had an abundance of Bifidobacterium early in life and an overall greater variability in their microbiomes over the course of the three years that samples were collected.

As part of the assessment for disease, the LPS molecule was evaluated, because it is known that LPS is a trigger to the immune response and causes inflammation.

However, these researchers found something intriguing.

They found that different groups of bacteria in the various countries signaled the LPS molecule.

For example, they found that E. coli signaled LPS in the Russian Karelian infant microbiome while in the Finnish and Estonian infant microbiomes, they found that the LPS from the Bacteroides species was dominant.

Additionally, the investigators found that the particular form of LPS found in Bacteroides did not trigger the immune system – they found that the LPS found in Bacteroides suppressed the LPS from the E. coli and other bacteria living in those communities.

The researchers interpret this data in the following way.

We believe that E. coli, which lives in the infant gut in all three countries, might be one of the immune educating bacteria responsible for training the immune system early in life. But, we found that if you mix Bacteroides with E. coli it can actually inhibit the immune-activating properties of E. coli, and we suspect this might have consequences on the development of the immune system… In the Finnish and Estonian infants, where Bacteroides dominates, the gut microbiome is immunologically very silent… We believe that, later on, this makes them more prone to strong inflammatory stimuli.

What this means is that in the western cultures (as indicated in the Estonia and Finnish groups) the domination by Bacteroides may not be good – it appears to suppress the development of the immune system and thus make it susceptible to hyper-responses as the infant grows.

This follows the concept of the Hygiene Hypothesis, which tells us that with improved sanitation and decreased exposure to microorganisms that are commensal and that have evolved inside humans to help the immune system develop normally – adults and children in western societies are more prone to hyper-immune responses such as allergies, asthma and autoimmunity. These days, in the west, these problems are in epidemic proportions.

The investigators suspect that the E. coli LPS in the Russian Karelian infants is an older, commensal relationship which humans developed with their microbiota over the course of human evolution.

This may coincide with the concept of the Alexander Effect, a term coined by Dr. Leo Galland, to indicate those organisms that can organize and direct other microbes. While Dr. Galland is talking about a specific bacteria in relationship to weight loss, the fact that some bacteria organize and control other bacteria is a topic for more research.

The investigators in this study consider the appearance of Bacteroides to be a more recent phenomenon related in some way to improved sanitation and standard of living in western societies  – which is good for society, but appears to be bad for the gut microbioime.

If you are as fascinated by the new research on the microbiome and how that affects your health and the health of your family, you may be interested in a diet that supports your microbiome!

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Leave a Comment

  • Rachel R. May 7, 2016, 10:00 am

    I read something very interesting in The Good Gut. (Well, lots of interesting things, but this one thing in particular.) Women’s gut microbiomes change over the course of a pregnancy, with a third-trimester gut “looking” very different from a first-trimester gut. At some point after delivery, the microbiome returns to its previous state. I’m curious what causes it to revert, but I’m not sure if anyone knows yet.

    • Jill May 7, 2016, 11:33 am

      Hi Rachel, R.,
      Yes I’ve read that two and it IS very interesting. It appears that the microbiome “knows” how to change to support the developing fetus.