Prof Licht says introduction of family foods is found to be main driving force behind development of complex microbial ecosystem within nine-month-old infant’s gut.

It was previously believed that after the age of nine months, infant gut microbiota develops with respect to maternal obesity. Latest research in Denmark suggests otherwise – the development of this microbiota is driven by the transition to more advanced family foods.

According to senior author Tine Rask Licht, PhD, Professor and Head of the Research Group for Microbiology and Immunology, National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark, Soborg, Denmark, the results of this study indicate that the progression of early infant feeding to more advanced forms of foods significantly affects the development of gut microbes.

The previous understanding that maternal obesity or specific taxon abundances influenced microbial diversity during the stages of complementary feeding is hence negated.

The study was published in mSphere, an open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology.

Child Obesity: Significance Of Gut Microbiota

Gut microbiota is a complex population of microbes that reside inside the digestive tract. Each person has his or her own distinct set of these microorganisms, which can more or less serve as a unique fingerprint. A newly born child essentially lacks these microbes, and they immediately colonize right after birth. From then on, it takes several years in establishing an individual’s endogenous gut microbiota. As adolescence approaches, these microbes become able to change and adapt to various factors, including diet, but only to some extent.

Previous researches have demonstrated a strong association between gut microbes, diet and obesity. It has been seen that children with obese parents possess a higher risk of developing obesity as well, and this phenomena is only partially governed by genetic predisposition. While various studies focus on the impact of early infant diet, especially breastfeeding, a few have also demonstrated how maternal obesity impacts infant gut microbiota, the latter being transmitted to the infant either by microbes or through familial dietary habits.

Determining Whether Obesity Or Dietary Progression Play Role

To understand what really influences the development of gut microbiota, Martin Laursen, a PhD student at Technical University of Denmark, along with colleagues compared the gut microbes of two groups of infants; a group of 114 infants born from a random sample of healthy mothers, and a second group of 113 infants born from obese mothers. Stool samples were analyzed from all the children at nine and 18 months of age, since by this time most children have sufficiently transitioned to a complementary diet. The microbial samples obtained from stool cultures were assessed against breastfeeding patterns and detailed dietary records.

It was seen that the main factors determining the development of infant gut microbiota were duration of breastfeeding and composition of complementary diet – both diet related determinants. In both groups of infants, the composition of gut microbes was significantly influenced by the introduction of family foods rich in protein and fiber content.

“The introduction of family foods was found to be the main driving force behind the development of the complex microbial ecosystem within an infant’s gut at the age of nine months. More importantly, the food determines the diversity as well as the composition of the microbiota. Despite having established that breastfeeding plays a great role in the development of gut microbiota, nobody has addressed the effect of diet at this age before”, concluded Professor Licht.

Conclusion – Regulating Weaning Practices

Maternal obesity, no doubt, has been correlated with the integrity of infant gut microbes and the possibility that these infants will grow up to be obese as well. However, this study demonstrates the existence of another key variable – dietary practices – in the development and diversity of gut microbiota.

The results highlight the importance of educating mothers about breastfeeding and weaning practices, and helping them understand the impact of feeding progression on the ultimate health and well-being of their child. A steady and timely progression from mild to family foods, especially those rich in essential proteins and fibers, is critical for the overall sustainability of infant gut microbiota.