It has long been known that exposure to air pollution can increase the long-term risk of everything from respiratory infections and heart disease to stroke and lung cancer in adults.
However, a new study conducted by the University of Colorado Boulder has uncovered a link between infant air pollution exposure and adverse impacts on gut bacteria.
More specifically, when children under the age of six months are exposed to air pollution, they are at an increased risk for allergies, diabetes, obesity, and perhaps even altered brain development.
This study is the first of its kind to find a relationship between inhaled pollutants– such as industrial, vehicular, and those from wildfires– with alterations in infant gut health during this crucial developmental window.
“This study adds to the growing body of literature showing that air pollution exposure, even during infancy, may alter the gut microbiome, with important implications for growth and development,” underscored Tanya Alderete, the study’s senior author.
For context, infants have very little resident gut bacteria following birth. Instead, it is their exposure to milk, solid food, and antibiotics that impact what microorganisms take hold in the infant’s gut over their first two to three years of life.
Then, these microorganisms and the byproducts they produce after breaking down food or chemicals in the stomach ultimately impact a plethora of bodily systems that affect appetite, immunity, insulin sensitivity, and cognition.
“The microbiome plays a role in nearly every physiological process in the body, and the environment that develops in those first few years of life sticks with you,” explained Maximilian Bailey, the study’s first author.
So, the researchers analyzed the fecal samples of over one hundred healthy Latino infants from the Southern California Mother’s Milk Study via genetic sequencing.