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New Evidence Shows Babies’ Emotional Development Is Linked To Their Gut Bacteria

A recent study by the scientists of the University of Turku, Finland has revealed interesting associations between an infant's gut microbes at the age of 10 weeks, and the manifestation of certain temperament traits at the age of six months.

Gut microbiome composition has been associated with various diseases, like Parkinson's, depression, and autism spectrum disorders, but limited research has been conducted on infants. The recent study by scientists in the FinnBrain research project revealed that the composition of gut microbiota and its remodelling has a connection with the human behavioural pattern.

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The research, however, does not suggest causation; instead, it adds to a robust growing body of evidence connecting gut bacteria with behaviour and mood.

While this new study was on infants, earlier, in 2015, a similar study was conducted to examine this relationship in toddlers (age 18 to 27 months). The hypothesis being – since the early months in a young life forms the elementary to neurodevelopment, and our gut bacteria is intrinsically linked with the brain. So, our microbiome composition could play a crucial role in the development of essential behavioural qualities.

The study was conducted on 303 infants. A stool sample was collected and analyzed first at the age of 2.5 months, and then again at around six months of age, the mothers were asked to complete a behaviour questionnaire to evaluate the child's temperament.

"It was interesting that, for example, the Bifidobacterium genus, including several lactic acid bacteria was associated with higher positive emotions in infants. Positive emotionality is the tendency to experience and express happiness and delight, and it can also be a sign of an extrovert personality later in life," says Doctor Anna Aatsinki, one of the lead authors of the research.

The most common finding was that greater diversity in microbial equated with lesser fear reactivity and negative emotionality. These findings are fascinating because fear and negative emotions are a significant cause of depression and anxiety in the later phase of life.

However, these types of correlational studies are merely the first step, leading the way to future research, which is more equipped to investigate the underlying mechanisms behind these associations further. The causal connection between gut bacteria and temperamental traits is yet to be drawn.

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As per Aatsinki, "Although we discovered connections between diversity and temperament traits, it is not certain whether early microbial diversity affects disease risk later in life. It is also unclear what are the exact mechanisms behind the association.”

She adds, "This is why we need follow-up studies as well as a closer examination of metabolites produced by the microbes."

Connections between the gut microbiome and the brain is undoubtedly an intriguing bi-directional relationship. But, in no way, it can be concluded that taking a probiotic supplement can result in positive mental health.

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