THURSDAY, April 29, 2021 (HealthDay News) – An infant will produce a lot of feces in the first year of life, but the very first can provide important clues about the risk of developing allergies.
The researchers analyzed meconium samples from 100 babies who participated in the CHILD Cohort Study, a long-term health study in children in Canada. Meconium is a dark green substance made up of what the fetus ingests and excretes in the womb, from skin cells and amniotic fluid to molecules called metabolites. A newborn baby usually passes meconium on the first day of life.
The study found that the fewer different types of molecules a baby’s meconium contains, the greater the risk of developing allergies by the age of 1.
“Our analysis found that newborns who developed allergic sensitization by 1 year of age had significantly less ‘rich’ meconium at birth than newborns who did not develop allergic sensitization,” said the study’s lead co-author, Dr. Brett Finlay, in a dismissal from the University of British Columbia (UBC). He is a professor at the University’s Michael Smith Laboratories and in the Departments of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and Microbiology and Immunology.
The researchers also found that a decrease in certain molecules is linked to changes in key groups of bacteria that play a critical role in gut microbes, which are important for both health and disease.
“Meconium is like a time capsule that reveals who the child was exposed to before birth. It contains all sorts of molecules that were encountered and accumulated by the mother in the womb, and then becomes the primary food source for the earliest intestinal microbes,” explained the study author Dr. Charisse Petersen, research assistant in the Department of Pediatrics at UBC.
“This work shows that the development of a healthy immune system and microbiota can indeed begin long before a child is born – and signals that the tiny molecules to which an infant is exposed in the womb play a fundamental role in future health,” said Petersen in the publication.
The researchers used a machine learning algorithm to predict with 76% accuracy. This is more reliable than ever as to whether an infant will develop allergies by the age of 1 or not. The study results have important implications for infants at risk, the authors said.
“We know that children with allergies are at the highest risk of developing asthma too. Now we have the ability to identify vulnerable infants who could benefit from early intervention before they show signs and symptoms of allergies or asthma later in life.” said the study’s senior co-author, Dr. Stuart Turvey, professor in the Department of Pediatrics at UBC and co-director of the CHILD Cohort Study.
The results were published in the journal on April 29th Cell reports medicine.
The American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology has more information on allergies in children.
SOURCE: University of British Columbia, press release, April 29, 2021