We all know that what we eat impacts our health, but recent research indicates that diet could be more influential than previously thought. Our microbiomes, or gut health, has been linked to Alzheimer’s risk and even personal body image. Now, research from the University of Vienna demonstrates that gut bacteria could be a key factor in the brain health of premature infants.
Early gut development, the brain, and the immune system are closely linked in what scientists call the gut-immune-brain axis. In healthy individuals, communication between the brain and the gut is strong, leading to a healthy gut equilibrium and strong immune system, but in infants born prematurely, this connection can be disrupted, leading to potential brain damage. “In fact, we have been able to identify certain patterns in the microbiome and immune response that are clearly linked to the progression and severity of brain injury,” said researcher David Berry.
The study monitored 60 premature infants born before 28 weeks gestation and, by taking EEGs and MRIs, as well as examining gut health through blood and stool samples, were able to determine that premature birth was generally associated with an overgrowth of the bacterium Klebsiella and the associated elevated ??-T-cell levels. These factors appeared to exacerbate brain damage.
This study is an important starting point in potentially developing gut health therapies for premature babies to improve cognitive function and immune response. The team plans to continue to monitor the study’s infants as they develop to track how these early life factors impact them in childhood and beyond.