Thursday, December 11, 2008

Preventing Food Allergy - The Role of Bifidobacteria

Our intestine produces 80% of all antibody-producing cells, thus, making it our largest immune organ. It is the home of trillions of both friendly and unfriendly bacteria, forming an intestinal microflora. Its role is to keep us healthy as well as preventing allergy.

A newborn’s intestine is sterile but within hours from birth, it will quickly become colonized by microorganisms from the mother’s birth canal and environment. A particular type of bacteria known as the Bifidobacteria becomes dominant and will eventually takes up 99% of the total bacteria count in exclusively breastfed babies.

The role of the Bifidobacteria is to stimulate the maturation and functions of our child’s intestinal immune system. It is reported that young children with food allergy have lesser bifidobacteria. In addition, Bifidobacteria also protects against intestinal infections caused by harmful bacteria such as gastroenteritis leading to diarrhea, which in turn is still the leading cause of infant mortality.

How does the method of child delivery affects the population of Bifidobacteria? The mother’s gut, skin and vaginal flora are sources of bacteria for colonizing the newborn’s intestine. Hence, it was found that infant delivered via caesarean section, where there is minimal or no contact with the mother’s vaginal and faecal flora, experienced a delay in the building of their intestinal microfloral and it may be disturbed for up to 6 months after birth. The Bifidobacteria population is further reduced if these caesarean-born infant are not breastfed or breastfed for only a very short time. Breast milk still has the special bifidogenic properties that will encourage the growth of Bifidobacteria.

Weaning also affects the population of Bifidobacteria, leading to changes in the intestinal microfloral population and decreasing the count of Bifidobacteria. Hence, solid food has to be introduced carefully since weaning is considered a high risk period due to the risk of developing food allergy.

Herein, lies another strong reason why we should be breastfeeding our babies as long as we possibly can, all the more so, if your baby is delivered via caesarean section.

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