Gut microbiota development in early life and the role of diet and probiotics for lifelong health
Our health is largely defined by the microbiota we harbor in our body beginning with the first breath we take. Communication between the host and co-habiting microbes is complex, and increasing evidence suggests that microbial signals not only affect our health, but also program the future health, especially during the first 1000 days. Several factors, such as urban environment, high hygiene level, small family size, low exposure to animals, antibiotics, formula-feeding as well as birth via Caesarean-section (C-section) can disturb evolutionarily conserved gut microbiota colonization and maturation These alterations in the maturation process may predispose an individual to certain health disadvantages. Modulation of the early gut microbiota development by diet and especially with probiotics are potential means to support an infants’ health and possibly extending later in life. However, more research is warranted on the efficacy of modulators of early microbiota development, including probiotic strains as well as identifying the ideal products for the optimal outcome in various situations.
The bacteria living in the inner and outer surfaces of the human body communicate with the host cells and tissues enabling the bacterial cells to modify their functions, referred to as microbial programming. Microbial programming occurs already in early life when the bacterial signaling molecules induce permanent or long-lasting changes to host cell functioning, resulting in reprogramming of major endocrine axes (1), as well as immune (2), and metabolic health (3). This microbial programming utilizes several signaling routes, e.g. epigenetic modifications including DNA methylation (4). The consequences may persist beyond the disappearance of a particular bacterial species in the gut, causing relatively permanent effects on immune, metabolic and cognitive development, and possibly impacting the risk of various associated conditions such as allergies (5), obesity (3) and autism spectrum disorders (6).
While prenatal microbial programming is still controversial among scientists (7), researchers are aligned that the birth is the first major confrontation with bacteria for the infant, initiating complex microbial signaling ...