How maternal diet could change the infant gut microbiome

26 July 2018
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New evidence suggests that changes to a mother’s microbiome, or gut health, brought on by obesity or a high fat diet during pregnancy could be transferred to the microbiome of her unborn baby.

A new animal study led by the University of Sydney's Professor Margaret Morris, suggests extended periods consuming an unhealthy diet during pregnancy could have a negative effect on the development of the offspring’s microbiome, the bacteria in our gut that is critical to health and wellbeing.

“We know an infant’s microbiome make-up is likely to be due to complex interactions between mode of delivery, antibiotic use and the innate immune system of the infant. But research now shows a high-fat, unhealthy diet can make significant changes to the diversity of gut bacteria in the offspring,” said Professor Morris.

Professor Morris discussed how the new study revealed that feeding pregnant female rats a fatty diet reduced gut bacteria diversity and altered the abundance of certain metabolites linked with obesity.

“Changes in the early infant gut microbiome are linked with the development of childhood obesity and autoimmune conditions, including asthma, allergies and, more recently, type 1 diabetes,” said Professor Morris.

The offspring of rats fed a high-fat and high-sugar diet had an increased body weight and fatty tissue at three weeks after birth. Maternal exercise had a beneficial effect on insulin and blood glucose concentrations, with a greater impact on male rats relative to females, however had no major impact on microbial diversity.

“We know that our gut bacteria plays a role in our health, but the exact effects of the microbiome remain somewhat unknown.

“The infant’s microbiome make-up is likely to be due to complex interactions between mode of delivery, antibiotic use and the innate immune system of the infant. Each of these factors is critical in informing microbiome development. Research now also shows high-fat diet can make significant changes to the diversity of gut bacteria in the offspring,” said Professor Morris.

Maternal obesity and diabetes dramatically increases the long-term risk for obesity in the next generation, and pregnancy and lactation may be critical periods at which to aim primary prevention to break the obesity cycle.

“The aim of our current research is to show the influences on infant microbiota colonisation and how the microbiome changes due to maternal diet and obesity and could lead to increased risk of childhood obesity.”

The research was presented at the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease conference which explored research into fetal and developmental origins of disease and involves scientists from many backgrounds.