VANCOUVER, British Columbia — No task exemplifies the trials and tribulations of life as a new parent quite like changing diapers. It’s a chore that few particularly enjoy and most want to get through as quickly as possible. However, researchers from the University of British Columbia say a baby’s first poop may hold some answers about the child’s health in the future.
More specifically, and perhaps in a bit too much detail, they say whether or not that first diaper contains a “thick, dark green substance known as meconium,” may reveal if the child will develop allergies by their first birthday.
“Our analysis revealed that newborns who developed allergic sensitization by one year of age had significantly less ‘rich’ meconium at birth, compared to those who didn’t develop allergic sensitization,” says the study’s senior co-author Dr. Brett Finlay, a professor at the Michael Smith Laboratories and departments of biochemistry and molecular biology, and microbiology and immunology at UBC, in a university release.
Meconium usually passes through a baby’s body during the first day of life. It contains materials including skin cells, amniotic fluid, and various molecules called metabolites.
“Meconium is like a time capsule, revealing what the infant was exposed to before it was born. It contains all sorts of molecules encountered and accumulated from the mother while in the womb, and it then becomes the initial food source for the earliest gut microbes,” adds the study’s lead author Dr. Charisse Petersen, a research associate in UBC’s department of pediatrics.
Predicting future allergies by gut health
Researchers analyzed meconium samples from 100 different infants during this project. That process showed the less varieties of molecules a baby’s meconium contains, the greater the child’s risk of developing allergies one year later.
The team also discovered a number of molecules that appear to have a link to changes to key bacterial groups. Those bacteria connect to gut functioning, an integral part of overall health.
“This work shows that the development of a healthy immune system and microbiota may actually start well before a child is born–and signals that the tiny molecules an infant is exposed to in the womb play a fundamental role in future health,” Dr. Petersen comments.
Next, via a machine-learning algorithm, study authors successfully predicted with a 76 percent degree of accuracy which babies would develop allergies within the next year.
“We know that children with allergies are at the highest risk of also developing asthma. Now we have an opportunity to identify at-risk infants who could benefit from early interventions before they even begin to show signs and symptoms of allergies or asthma later in life,” concludes the study’s senior co-author Dr. Stuart Turvey, a professor in UBC’s department of pediatrics, investigator at BC Children’s Hospital and co-director of the CHILD Cohort Study.
The study appears in the journal Cell Reports Medicine.