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Infant gut microbiome development not driven by maternal weight

The transition to food from breastfeeding, and what those foods are, have a significant impact on the formation of the infant microbiome.
By Stephen Feller   |   Feb. 11, 2016 at 2:29 PM

SOBORG, Denmark, Feb. 11 (UPI) -- Although genetics and maternal obesity can have some effect on the development of an infant's microbiome, the transition to food has a much larger effect, according to research in Finland.

Researchers at the Technical University of Denmark found that once food was introduced to an infant's diet, the influence of maternal obesity faded significantly.

Previous research has linked the microorganisms that live in the gut, which colonize children upon birth and play a role in many bodily functions, to obesity. The microbiome does not change much after a few years of life, making its formation more important, researchers said.

"We found that introduction of family foods is the main driver of development of the complex microbial ecosystem in the gut at age 9 months," Dr. Tine Rask Licht, head of the Research Group for Microbiology and Immunology at the National Food Institute at Technical University of Denmark, said in a press release. "The food determines the diversity and the composition of the microbiota, and this is very important. It is well known that breast feeding has a great impact on gut microbiota, but nobody has addressed the effect of diet at this age before."

For the study, published in the journal mSphere, the researchers compared the microbiomes of 227 infants, 114 who were born to healthy mothers and 113 born to obese mothers, analyzing stool samples taken from the children at 9 and 18 months old.

By 9 months, researchers said, most children have at least partially transitioned to a complementary food diet.

Both groups of infants, they reported, had microbiomes that began to significantly change after the introduction of other food to their diets. They said the results show a diminished influence on development of the microorganism population from maternal obesity or health than previously thought.

"The findings presented here suggest that maternal obesity per se does not affect the overall composition of the gut microbiota and its development after introduction of complementary foods," researchers wrote in the study. "Rather, progression in complementary feeding is found to be the major determinant for gut microbiota establishment. Expanding our understanding of the influence of complementary diet on the development and establishment of the gut microbiota will provide us with the knowledge to tailor a beneficial progression of our intestinal microbial community."

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