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Living Close To Natural Green Space Benefits Gut Bacteria Of Urban, Formula-fed Infants

This is the first study showing that formula-fed babies’ gut microbiome is comparable to gut microbiome of breastfed babies living near natural environments. Living close to natural green space can mitigate some of the changes in infant gut bacteria associated with formula feeding, according to a new research published in the journal Environment International and co-led by Hein Tun, group leader at HKU-Pasteur Research Pole and Anita Koyzrskyj, Department of Pediatrics, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada. “Although we consider maternal breastmilk is nature’s gift, not every infant can be breastfed. This is one of the first pieces of evidence for a nature-related intervention that could possibly help promote healthy gut microbial composition in infants not breastfed,” said Hein Tun, assistant professor of public health, who studies the developmental gut microbiota in infants and its role in developing allergies and metabolic diseases in children. In this study, the researchers examined fecal microbiota of 355 four-month-old infants in Edmonton who are part of the CHILD Cohort Study. Their postal codes were then cross-referenced with the City of Edmonton’s urban Primary Land and Vegetation Inventory (uPLVI), which maps natural green spaces in the city, including natural forest, grasslands, wetlands, lakes, rivers and ravines. “We found that the infants who lived within 500 metres of a natural environment were less likely to have higher diversity in their gut bacteria,” said Anita Koyzrskyj. “It may seem counterintuitive, but a young breastfed infant has lower gut microbial diversity than a formula-fed infant because formula feeding increases the number of different gut bacteria.” Although the greatest association was found for formula-fed infants living in a home with a pet, the exact mechanism is not yet understood. The authors hypothesize that families who walk their dog may use natural areas more often, or perhaps pets bring healthy bacteria into the home on their fur. “Our previous study indicated that having furry pets at home could introduce beneficial microbes to babies and we know that introducing a pet into the home does change the types of microbes in household dust.” Tun pointed out. “WHO’s recommendation for exclusive breastfeeding is for the first six months of life. In Hong Kong, the rate is still as low as one-fourth of the infant population. More local research is needed to examine the health consequences,” Tun said. “Even most HK people live in high-rise buildings, if you frequently visit local country parks, it could give you similar benefits.” The study’s senior authors often receive emails from mothers who are unable to practice breastfeeding and are concerned about their children’s futures. Based on the study’s results, they will now advise them to take their babies out to natural areas and consider getting a pet.

Summer photo created by wirestock - Freepik

Originally posted on the HKU-Pasteur Research Pole website.


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