(Natural News) Exposure to probiotics within the first 1,000 days after conception has been linked to profound positive effects on the health of infants.
Birgit Michelsen, chief technical officer of the Danish probiotic supplement company Bifodan, highlighted this finding at the United Natural Products Alliance annual members’ meeting and noted that up to 70 percent of an individual’s future health is affected by those first 1,000 days.
Michelsen’s statement is reflective of an earlier study published in the journal Nature Medicine, in which a team of researchers from Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York explained that exposing infants to beneficial microorganisms or probiotics during this period allows for the colonization of their intestinal tract.
According to the researchers, this exposure is especially important since the bacteria that can potentially colonize the intestinal tract during this critical window can contribute to the development of protective and metabolic functions in the body.
These bacteria, once firmly established in the gastrointestinal tract, will then essentially function as an additional organ by providing protective metabolites and antibacterial substances to the infants.
“During the first 1,000 days the developing fetus and newborn go through major developmental changes in its body organs, particularly the gastrointestinal tract,” the researchers wrote, noting that the colonizing bacteria and their secretions interact with developing body functions in ways that can have long-term effects on how the human body responds to environmental stimuli, such as diet, pets and antibodies. (Related: Probiotics Improve Infant Immune Function.)
“Ultimately, this may help a person stay healthy or cause chronic diseases, such as Type 1 diabetes or inflammatory bowel disease,” the researchers added.
First 1,000 days a “critical window,” says Health experts
Colonization occurs within the first two years of life, according to Allan Walker of Harvard Medical School (HMS).
A Professor of Pediatrics and Nutrition at HMS, Walker noted that the process of colonization passes through different stages.
According to Walker, some exposure occurs in utero, with bacteria from the mother’s intestine passing through the placenta into the amniotic fluid. Major colonization, however, begins with delivery, when the fetus either passes through the birth canal or is born by cesarean section.
Each mode of delivery produces a different colonization pattern, which is finalized by the time the infant reaches two years of age. At this point, the child will have a unique composition of microorganisms residing in his colon.
According to Walker, the nature of gut-colonizing bacteria differs based on several factors, which include geographic location, an infant’s diet and the process of weaning to solid foods.
However, maternal illness during pregnancy, infant illness, use of antibiotics and food insecurity can disrupt colonization. These disruptions, according to a study published in Trends in Microbiology, may contribute to lifelong and intergenerational deficits in growth and development.
Eline van der Beek, an expert in nutritional programming from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, agrees, adding that if the development of the gut microbiome is disrupted, it may end up being less flexible and less capable of generating the right responses needed later in life.
Should you supplement your child’s diet with probiotics?
Because of their reported benefits for the gut microbiome, probiotics have become quite popular within the past decade. In fact, the National Health Interview Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 4 million adults and 300,000 children had used probiotics in 2012.
An umbrella term, “probiotics,” especially in the context of dietary supplements, refers to many different strains of live microorganisms that are considered to be good for the body.
According to experts, probiotics in general cause very few side effects in both healthy adults and children. However, it may be more prudent to get your fill of probiotics from natural, whole food sources, such as organic yogurt, traditional kefir, miso, kombucha, organic sauerkraut and other pickled and fermented vegetables and food products.
For more stories on healthy food sources, visit Food.news.