13 May 2013

Bacteria in baby's belly may affect growth

One species of bacteria may be linked to slowed progress in the growth of infants.


Infants' early growth is influenced by the types of bacteria in their digestive system, a new study says.

A variety of bacteria quickly populate the sterile digestive tract of a newborn. Norwegian researchers identified connections between specific types of bacteria and infant growth rates.

For their study, published in the journal PLoS Computational Biology, the researchers examined stool samples from 218 babies and developed a method to identify specific points in time when the presence of certain bacteria is associated with growth.

Detection of Bacteroides species

For example, the study found that detection of Bacteroides species when a male infant is 30 days old is significantly associated with reduced growth. In contrast, the presence of E. coli species between ages four days to one month is linked with normal growth in male and female infants.

"We have created a new way of looking at the development of gut microbiota [the body's microbial ecosystem] over time and relating this development to health outcomes," the researchers wrote.

"This is useful to the scientific community as it is difficult to characterise, in a meaningful way, how the gut develops over time," according to principal investigator Dr Merete Eggesbo, of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, and colleagues.

Scientists looked at growth of babies

"After applying our new method, we found an indication that the composition of early life gut microbiota may be associated with how fast or slow babies grow in early life although there is also the possibility that factors early in life affect both gut microbiota and how fast the baby grows," the authors explained.

In other words, although the study found an association between gut bacteria and babies growth rates, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

Knowing how the ideal composition of gut microbiota develops over time is necessary in order to make changes to it, the researchers said.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about children's growth.

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