The contents of a baby’s gut may affect their brain development, according to new research
A small pilot study suggests levels of certain microbes might be associated with early cognitive skill levels.
“Several studies in animals and humans have hinted at connections between the microbiome and early-life brain development, but few have examined how differences in infants’ microbiomes might be associated with differences in their emerging cognitive abilities.”
To help deepen understanding of the potential connections, the Canadian research team analyzed data from 56 babies.
The four- to six-month-old infants had each completed at least one of three evaluations of various cognitive abilities, and the researchers evaluated their gut microbiomes using fecal samples.
The findings showed that babies who succeeded at a test of social attention known as “point and gaze” – which measures the ability to share a focus on an object with another person – tended to have higher amounts of microbes in the Actinobacteria phylum, the genus Bifidobacterium, and the genus Eggerthella.
They also had lower amounts of microbes in the Firmicutes phylum, the Hungatella genus, and the Strepcococcus genus.
Meanwhile, electroencephalogram measurements of the babies’ brain activity in response to hearing a steady beat showed that certain patterns of activity linked to better rhythmic processing were associated with higher or lower levels of certain microbe types.
They were also linked to levels of certain metabolic chemical reactions involving microbes that prior studies have linked to brain and spinal cord development.
No links were found between the microbiome and measurements of blood flow in the babies’ brains in response to hearing recordings of human speech, according to the findings published in the journal PLOS One.
Hunter said: “In our small pilot study, we observed interesting associations between the microbiome and brain function in early infancy
“Overall, these findings are in line with the idea that the microbiome might influence early cognitive development, but more research is needed to confirm and clarify this role.”
He added: “Further replication and research could be fruitful for understanding the role of the microbiome in early cognitive development.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker