A baby’s first poop can reveal whether or not they will develop allergies, according to a recent study out of Canada. If the newborn’s excretion, call meconium, is significantly less “rich” than normal, scientists say it may be a sign they may have an overactive immune system.
Meconium is made up of what was consumed in the uterus like skin cells, amniotic fluid, mucus, bile and water. The odorless, green and sticky substance, which can be tested to see if the mother excessively drank alcohol or smoked during pregnancy, can even now shed insight on the baby’s future.
“Meconium is like a time capsule, revealing what the infant was exposed to before it was born,” says Dr. Charisse Petersen, a research associate in the department of pediatrics at the University of British Columbia medical school, in a statement. “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.”
Researchers analyzed meconium from 100 infants for the study. They discovered the fewer different types of molecules it contained, the greater the child’s risk of developing allergies by one year. They also found that a reduction in certain molecules was associated with changes to key bacterial groups.
These bacteria groups play a critical role in the development and maturation of a vast ecosystem in the microbiota, which are a powerful player in health and disease.
Using a machine-learning algorithm, the researchers combined meconium, microbe and clinical data to predict with a high degree of accuracy (76 percent) — more reliably than ever before — whether or not an infant would develop allergies by one year of age.
“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,” says Petersen.
Adds Dr. Stuart Turvey, a professor in pediatrics at the university: “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.”
The study is published in the journal Cell Reports Medicine.
South West News Service writer Joe Morgan contributed to this report.