4 May 2021

Baby’s first poo a ‘crystal ball’ for allergies?

RedHerring The Back Page

The contents of a newborn’s digestive system could reveal their sensitivity to allergens later in life.

We say ‘could’ because there’s a research paper, recently published in Cell Reports Medicine, that is hinting at the connection – but it’s early days still. 

The link between the gut microbiome and food allergies has been explored before in 3-6 month old infants previously, but this study looks at something quite particular – the very first poo a baby makes after it’s born.

This “poo” is called the meconium. It’s a thick, green substance that is released from the baby’s bowel after birth. 

The Canadian research team analysed meconium samples in 100 infants as part of a larger study of stool samples from 950 infants aged up to two years.

The meconium begins forming at 16 weeks’ gestation and contains metabolites (steroids, amino acids, vitamins and cofactors, and nucleotides) that are passed between mother and fetus during pregnancy.

The diversity of these metabolites in turn affects the bacteria that start to colonise the gut after birth. 

Using the 100 samples, the researchers showed that babies with less diverse metabolites in the meconium at birth also had less mature microbiota early in life and were more likely to develop allergies by the age of one. 

“Strikingly, atopic infants had a significantly less metabolically rich meconium at birth compared with that of non-atopic infants, suggesting that differences in the niche that supports microbiota development and, ultimately, influences immune development may already exist at birth,” the researchers reported. 

“Thus, deficiency in microbiota maturation and immune development likely begins in utero, and these findings may be valuable to identifying at-risk infants and revealing directly modifiable metabolic targets to prevent allergic sensitisation.”

(Atopy refers to the genetic tendency to develop allergic diseases.)

If you see something weird, say something weird. The Back Page apologises for being unable to produce Star Wars/health-related content to celebrate May the Fourth. We couldn’t find an angle despite furious Googling! But here are a few gifs for the occasion…