News ID: 112265
Published: 0327 GMT February 22, 2015

Breastfeeding helps shape immune system

Breastfeeding helps shape immune system

Henry Ford Hospital researchers say that breastfeeding and other factors influence a baby's immune system development and susceptibility to allergies and asthma by what's in their gut.

The gut microbiome is the collection of microorganisms in the gastrointestional, or GI, tract, and the human body has billions of these microbes. The GI tract contains what scientists often call a bacterial ecosystem. The gut microbiome is known to play an important role in immune system development, and is thought to contribute to a host of diseases like obesity, autoimmune diseases, circulating disorders and pediatric allergies and infection, Science Daily reported.

"For years now, we've always thought that a sterile environment was not good for babies. Our research shows why. Exposure to these microorganisms, or bacteria, in the first few months after birth actually help stimulate the immune system," Dr. Johnson said.

"The immune system is designed to be exposed to bacteria on a grand scale. If you minimize those exposures, the immune system won't develop optimally."

In six separate studies, researchers sought to evaluate whether breastfeeding and maternal and birth factors had any effect on a baby's gut microbiome and allergic and asthma outcomes. Using data collected from the WHEALS birth cohort, researchers analyzed stool samples from infants taken at one month and six months after birth. They also looked at whether the gut microbiome impacted the development of regulatory T-cells, or Treg, which are known to regulate the immune system. Highlights:

  • Breastfed babies at one month and six months had distinct microbiome compositions compared to non-breastfed babies. These distinct compositions may influence immune system development.
  • Breastfed babies at one month were at decreased risk of developing allergies to pets.
  • Asthmatic children who had nighttime coughing or flare-ups had a distinct microbiome composition during the first year of life.
  • For the first time, gut microbiome composition was shown to be associated with increasing Treg cells.
   
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Resource: Science Daily
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