A new study has found that lack of certain "good" intestinal germs early in life may increase babies' risk of developing asthma.
Now the question is what could gut bacteria have to do with a lung disease? It is notable that trillions of microbes are present in our body that play key roles in keeping us healthy and bacteria in the gut are thought to shape the immune system in ways that can affect the risk of a variety of diseases.
The new study raises the possibility of one day altering tots' buildup of protective bugs, maybe through probiotics.
"I want to emphasize that we're not ready for that yet," cautioned study co-author Dr. Stuart Turvey, a pediatric immunologist at the University of British Columbia and BC Children's Hospital. But a "vision for the future would be to prevent this disease."
The cases of asthma have been increasing across the world and it affects nearly 10 percent of U.S. children. While medications can help control the wheezing and airway inflammation, asthma is a common reason for childhood hospitalizations.
For the new study, the researchers from University of British Columbia tracked health records of 319 children from birth to age 3. The researchers also analyzed stool samples taken during infancy to check their gut bacteria.
The researchers found that there were 22 youngsters deemed very high risk because of early asthma warning signs - and at 3 months of age, all of them had much lower levels of four specific gut bacteria than the other babies.
The researchers infected germ-free mice with an at-risk tot's stool sample alone, or with a supplement of the "good" bacteria. Restoring the missing bugs reduced airway inflammation in the offspring of the mice. The findings of the study were published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
"This is a really important study because of that mouse evidence that altering bacteria affects symptoms," said Dr. Rachel Rosen, a gastroenterology specialist at Boston Children's Hospital who wasn't involved with the research. "Just knowing that's possible opens up a whole field of using bacteria as a therapy for lung disease."