A new study led by The University of Alberta found that baby boys with high concentrations of Bacteroidetes in their guts showed enhanced neurodevelopment that could affect their cognition and language skills.

We've known about the importance of gut health for overall health for years. Still, new research led by the University of Alberta followed over 400 infants from the CHILD Cohort Study (CHILD) at its Edmonton site and found that boys with higher concentrations of a particular gut bacteria had more advanced cognition and language skills a year later.

The research found that boys who had higher concentrations of Bacteroidetes in their guts had higher cognition and language skills. Dr. Anita Kozyrskyj is a professor of pediatrics at the University of Alberta. She was also a principal investigator of the SyMBIOTA (Synergy in Microbiota) Lab. She said that typically girls score higher at early ages in language and cognition, but in this research looking at gut health and microbial composition, infant boys showed an obvious connection between the improved scores and Bacteroidetes compositions. She said that though the differences in the baby girls' gut microbiota and the baby boys' was subtle, but that the CHILD Cohort study data showed that girls at early ages were likely to have more of the Bacteroidetes. That could be why they tend to score higher than boys in general at those early ages. It also shows that supplementation could make a big difference in baby boys.

The research team studied bacteria found in the fecal samples from the babies and found three different groups that showed similar bacteria clusters as dominant. They then compared scores of various neural development scales comparatively and found that only the infant boys with Bacteriodetes-dominant bacteria showed signs of enhanced neural development.

This mirrors other research that shows an association between neural development and Bacteroidetes. Dr. Kozyrskyj said that Bacteroidetes are one of the few bacteria in our microbiome that produce sphingolipids. Sphingolipids are metabolites that are instrumental for the forming and structure of neurons in our brains. She said that is makes sense that if there are more bacteria producing more sphingolipids, you'd likely see more neural connection formation and that could explain improved brain function leading to higher cognition and language scores.

She noted that C-sections are a factor that can significantly deplete the Bacteroidetes. Factors that help replenish and influence a baby's gut positively are breastfeeding, high-fiber diets, living with a dog and exposure to green spaces and nature.

She also noted that the findings didn't mean that children who had lower concentrations of Bacteroidetes would be behind peers in childhood or adulthood, but could be a way to potentially identify risk of neurodevelopmental disorders as well as encourage enhancing those Bacteroidetes.

The future research they plan will look at whether the findings can be predictors of ADHD or autism. They also want to see what impact stress and gut colonization of the bacterium Clostridium difficile has over the first two years of a baby's life. This is when their brain is very malleable and Dr. Kozyrskyj believes that the connection between the brain's malleability and gut health is very important for overall health and development.