In yet another scientific reason for mothers to strongly consider breast-feeding their newborns, a new study in the journal Genome Biology finds that babies who are fed breast-milk had a wider range of gut bacteria than formula-fed babies. A link was also found between the diversity of bacteria in the babies' guts and the activation of certain immunity genes. While they recommended further research on the subject, the researchers wrote, "The early neonatal period is a critical phase for both intestinal digestive development as well as (gut bacteria) colonization
Gut health is critical to good health
As more and more studies are proving, gut health is critical to both physical and mental health. In short, the immune systems of breast-fed babies were better able to cope with the wide range of bacteria in their intestinal tract. According to Robert Chapkin, professor of Nutrition, Biochemistry and Biophysics at the Texas A&M University, "Our findings suggest that human milk promotes the beneficial crosstalk between the immune system and microbe population in the gut, and maintains intestinal stability.
A wealth of probiotics, or 'good bacteria,' in the gut can fight disease and do a lot to promote overall health. A 2004-2008 study done by the University of Bari in Italy, published in the journal Pediatrics showed that irritable bowel syndrome in children can be treated with a certain bacteria, in this case Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (LGG). In fact, the sooner IBS is diagnosed and treated this way (before they are referred to a specialist), the better chance it can be alleviated and future complications, including psychiatric disorders, can be prevented.
Gut health plays a hugely critical role not only in fighting chronic disease, but also in warding off mental ailments such as anxiety, depression, and, yes, autism. The presence of too much 'bad bacteria' in the gut can be caused by a host of factors such as pharmaceutical antibiotics, consuming conventional antibiotic-filled meats, and even viruses introduced by vaccinations. In fact, it was researching the link between gut disorders and autism that got Dr. Andrew Wakefield in such hot water, eventually casting doubt on the safety of the MMR vaccination.
According to the Daily Mail, in 2006 a team from Wake Forest University School of Medicine found a link between the MMR vaccination and bowel disease, confirming and expanding the findings of Dr. Wakefield and his team. Of the first 82 children with both autism and bowel disease, 70 tested positive for the vaccine introduced measles virus. Team leader Dr. Stephen Walker wrote, "'What it means is that the study done earlier by Dr Wakefield and published in 1998 is correct. That study didn't draw any conclusions about specifically what it means to find measles virus in the gut, but the implication is it may be coming from the MMR vaccine. If that's the case, and this live virus is residing in the gastrointestinal tract of some children, and then they have GI inflammation and other problems, it may be related to the MMR."
The benefits of breast-feeding for both mother and child are too numerous to list - from mother's decreased risk of cancer, heart attack, stroke, and diabetes to the child's enhanced immune system because of, we now know, the beneficial gut bacteria breast-feeding fosters. With poor gut health being increasingly linked to autism, it stands to reason that the association between breast-feeding and good gut health could reasonably lead to proof that breast-feeding actually reduces the chance of autism in children.