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A very big, very small revolution in babies’ health

by Dr. David L. Hill

Dr. Hill

Every day I tell patients that we are living through the fourth great revolution in medicine. The first three revolutions had to do with killing the fairly small number of viruses, fungi, and bacteria that harm us (pathogens). In 1796 Dr. Edward Jenner tested the first ever vaccine against smallpox, learning that our own immune systems could be taught to destroy deadly invaders. Second, in 1865 Joseph Lister found that carbolic acid could prevent bacteria from causing deadly wound infections, opening the door to modern surgery. Finally, in 1928 Alexander Fleming isolated penicillin, discovering that previously life-threatening infections could be treated with a natural compound.

The fourth revolution, however, is just starting, and it has to do with how we interact with the trillions of microorganisms that live within us and help keep us healthy. It turns out that our bodies contain 3 times as many bacterial cells as human ones! These bacteria, along with fungi, viruses, and other types of microorganisms help digest our food, strengthen our immune systems, and compete with pathogens for space and nutrients. That’s why I was so excited to partner with Evivo to help parents understand how they are on the forefront of this revolution.

It turns out that some of the lifesaving advances we’ve made in delivering babies, such as cesarean deliveries and antibiotic use, have had an unintended consequence over time: newborns are deprived of some of the good bacteria that they need to build healthy intestines, specifically Bifidobacterium longum subspecies infantis (B. infantis for short). We know this by charting the pH of babies’ poop (I know, gross) over decades. A hundred years ago the pH was low, a finding associated with healthier stools and less diaper rash and, coincidentally, with a healthy colonization of B. infantis. Today 9 out of 10 babies are missing this bacteria.

Why do we care? Good bacteria (probiotics) like B. infantis line the intestines and produce substances that fight inflammation and crowd out pathogens like E. coli, Clostridium difficile, Staphylococcus aureus, and some Streptococcus species. Studies show that probiotics may prevent asthma in children, fight antibiotic-associated diarrhea, and even affect mood and behavior! Babies with more B. infantis in their intestines even had lower levels of endotoxin, a compound generated by some bacteria that causes inflammation. Babies also had fewer and better-formed stools (I spend a lot of my day talking about baby poop)... Read more on Dr. David Hill