As readers are aware, here at ScienceToLiveBy.com we take the gut microbiome very seriously. And we’re particularly interested in how the microbiome is linked to disease. We are continuously learning how diet and behavior can influence the microbiome and health outcomes.
Late last year, a University of Alberta study showed that the family risk for asthma, usually passed from mothers to babies, may be caused by more than genetics. The study, led by Anita Kozyrskyj, found a significant reduction of the Lactobacillus family of microbes in Caucasian baby boys born to pregnant women who had asthma. According to the findings, there is strong evidence that maternal asthma during pregnancy may be associated with an infant’s gut microbes.
Dr. Kozyrskyj told Science Daily, “Our discovery, with more research, could eventually lead to a preventative approach involving modifying the gut microbiome in infants to reduce the risk.”
The lab is also looking into whether certain sex-specific risks towards being overweight are related to changes in infant gut microbiomes. We caught up with Dr. Kozyrskyj of University of Alberta to find out more about their research.
ScienceToLiveBy: What specifically motivated the research into the gut microbiome – asthma link? Had you pursued other links prior to this study?
Dr. Anita Kozyrskyj: I was motivated to study the gut microbiome-asthma link by the well-established fact that maternal asthma affects infant birth weight in a sex-specific manner. Some of this evidence was published by Dr. Clifton at the University of Adelaide.
STLB: Any hypotheses as to how gender differences may be causing the sex-specific effects on gut microbiome?
DR. KOZYRSKYJ: Male fetuses and those of mothers with asthma are more likely to have problems swallowing amniotic fluid, which is essential for intestinal absorption of nutrients. Lactobacilli have been detected in amniotic fluid.
STLB: Other coverage of your research cautioned against pro-biotic treatments, did you mean in the infants after birth, or for women with asthma before or during pregnancy?
DR. KOZYRSKYJ: I believe the article stated that it was too early for parents to act on my findings. Certainly lactobacillus-containing probiotics have been tested during pregnancy and in the infant after birth for their effectiveness in reducing onset of allergic disease. Probiotic efficacy is strongest in preventing allergic eczema and weakest in preventing asthma from developing. However, it’s possible that lactobacillus supplementation efficacy is sex-specific.
STLB: Are you looking at other gut-gender-disease links in pregnancy?
DR. KOZYRSKYJ: Male infants who are treated with antibiotics are more likely than girls to become overweight. We are also looking into whether this sex-specific risk for overweight is related to changes to infant gut bacteria.
STLB: What studies might you be planning for follow up?
DR. KOZYRSKYJ: The plan is to link these findings to the development of allergic disease in the CHILD birth cohort as children get older. CHILD cohort children are currently being assessed at age 5 for the presence of asthma and allergies.
- Petya T. Koleva, Hein M. Tun, Theodore Konya, David S. Guttman, Allan B. Becker, Piush J. Mandhane, Stuart E. Turvey, Padmaja Subbarao, Malcolm R. Sears, James A. Scott, Anita L. Kozyrskyj. Sex-specific impact of asthma during pregnancy on infant gut microbiota. European Respiratory Journal, 2017; 50 (5): 1700280 DOI: 10.1183/13993003.00280-2017