Washington: Researchers have suggested that breastfeeding until at least nine months of age increases prevalence in the gastrointestinal tract of Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria, species which are known to contribute to development of a healthy immune system.
In the study, the investigators sampled the gut microbiota in the feces of 300 children at 9, 18, and 36 months of age. The nutritional factor with the greatest impact on the composition of the gut flora was the time of cessation of breast feeding.
The investigators also examined the microbiota, seeking enterotypes, or characteristic microbial communities.
While enterotypes tend to be stable in adults (absent antibiotic use or major changes in diet) the investigators found that one particular enterotype-like grouping was prevalent at 18 months and another at 36 months, but the children frequently flipped a few times between the two.
Corresponding author Tine Rask Licht, of the Technical University of Denmark said that the research could ultimately lead to supplementation of infant formulas-or food for adults-with specific bacteria or carbohydrates expected to promote a healthy gut microbiota.
She and her collaborators are currently involved in studies testing effects of such pro- and prebiotics in animal models as well as in humans, she says, noting that in Denmark, several multinational companies are also involved in this research.
The research was published online in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology.