Is re-balancing the “baby-microbiome” the answer to lifelong health?

Today I’m not going to talk about obesity, heart disease or diabetes, per se, but something that scares me just as much.

And that is the way we treat the health of babies in this country today. Of course, children’s health is something I’ve always been passionate about (in fact, my first book, Feed Your Kids Well, was devoted entirely to the topic). Really, though, this is something we should all be concerned about…after all, they’ll be the ones taking care of us in our old age one day.

But according to biochemist Dr. David Kyle, our children’s health is being destroyed from the time they are in utero — which is setting them up for a lifetime of health issues.

And I couldn’t agree with him more.

Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Dr. Kyle was the instrumental force behind the addition of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA to infant formula. But it wasn’t an easy victory. From what I remember, the powers-that-be reacted as though Dr. Kyle was asking the FDA to put arsenic in those canisters of Similac and Enfamil.

But in the end, the weight of evidence supporting DHA’s role in brain and eye development was so compelling, the addition became standard in baby formula here in the US. (Europe of course, had DHA in their infant formula long before the US did, and they probably have a healthier generation for it.)

Now Dr. Kyle’s battle for change has shifted from fortifying infant formula to re-balancing the “baby microbiome.”

When you think about it from a logical perspective, a balanced gut is of vital importance to an infant, because it creates the immune system. And if you have a compromised immune system, you will inevitably wind up with all kinds of health problems.

Unfortunately, babies’ fragile microbiomes have been compromised over the last several decades.

One reason is the dramatic rise in C-section deliveries, which have increased seven-fold over the 50 years. The birth canal harbors the essential bacteria strain bificibacterium longum sub. infantus. But since C-section babies don’t go through the birth canal, they aren’t exposed to this critical strain. And the result is gut flora that looks closer to an adult with dysbiosis than a healthy infant.

Along with the rise in Caesarians, there has been a simultaneous increase in autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes, Crohn’s disease, and multiple sclerosis. As well as increases in allergic diseases, such as asthma, allergic rhinitis, and atopic dermatitis.

Think about it…When we were in grade school, very few kids had asthma. (Personally, I don’t remember any of my classmates having it.) Now you’re practically an outsider if you don’t carry an inhaler. And when we were kids, everyone ate peanut butter without the fear of having to whip out an EpiPen.

And there’s a very good chance imbalanced gut flora is at the root of these “modern” childhood epidemics. But C-sections aren’t the only thing disrupting babies’ microbiomes.

Overuse of antibiotics has also taken a toll on infant gut bacteria. And the impact starts before the baby is even born. After all, when a pregnant mother takes an antibiotic, so does her fetus.

So, after piecing together all of the reasons why kids today have so many illnesses, the question remains…

How can we restore the “baby gut” back where it is supposed to be?

Well, it’s a three-step process…

First: Start focusing on baby’s nutrition in utero. And I don’t just mean eating a healthy diet (though, obviously, that’s a must). Unfortunately, the best advice most pregnant women get from their obstetrician (OB) is to take a prenatal vitamin. Vitamin supplements are important, of course, but there is so much more we can do. Not many OBs are willing to tell their patients to take a probiotic, but it’s an integral part of prenatal care (especially if the mother takes antibiotics during pregnancy).

Second: C-sections should be avoided unless there is a compelling medical reason to undergo this invasive procedure.

Third: Once a baby is born, breastmilk is the best source of nutrition. And, again, it comes back to mom eating a healthy diet with plenty of protein, vegetables, and healthy fats. And taking the necessary supplements, including fish oil, vitamin D, and a good quality probiotic (with multiple strains of beneficial bacteria).

That said, there are some cases when formula is the only option. And for those babies, Dr. Kyle is currently studying the complex makeup of the oligosaccharides found in human breastmilk to see if there is a way to replicate them in infant formula. He’s also working with UC Davis scientists at UC Davis to develop supplements specifically targeting infant gut health. But in the meantime, formula fed babies should get infant vitamin D drops (1,000 IU every other day), and probiotic supplements. (I recommend one capsule of Dr. Ohirra’s once a day. You can open the capsule and put the contents into baby food, cool formula, or directly on the baby’s tongue.)

As an added measure, I strongly recommend talking to your pediatrician to determine a less aggressive immunization schedule. Babies are flooded with vaccines their first year of life. It starts before they even leave the hospital. And while there’s no hard and fast evidence on it, I have no doubt that all these vaccines play some role in infants’ diminishing gut flora — and their subsequent immune system development. So, again, talk to your pediatrician about the possibility of spacing the shots out, and/or limiting the number given at any single checkup.

While this news about infant microbiomes isn’t great, I am so glad to see it being addressed in the scientific literature. Hopefully it will help people realize that if we don’t start looking at health all the way back to the fetus, we face a long uphill battle against lifelong illness. But the more we all know about these alarming trends in infant health, the better equipped are to reverse them.