Living close to natural green space benefits gut bacteria of urban, formula-fed infants

Updated: Apr 25

The first study of its kind shows formula-fed babies’ gut microbiomes more like those of breastfed babies when they live near natural environments.

Living close to natural green space can mitigate some of the changes in infant gut bacteria associated with formula feeding, according to new research published in the journal Environment International.

“Not every infant can be breastfed,” said Anita Kozyrskyj, pediatrics professor at the University of Alberta. “This is one of the first pieces of evidence for a nature-related intervention that could possibly help promote healthy gut microbial composition in infants who are not breastfed.”

“We consider breastfeeding to be the desirable state, and we know that a breastfed infant is at reduced likelihood of many conditions later in life—for example, developing respiratory infections and becoming overweight,” said Kozyrskyj, who is principal investigator for SyMBIOTA, a research team that studies how changes in infant gut microbiota can lead to the development of obesity, allergies and asthma in children.

“We found that the infants who lived within 500 metres of a natural environment were less likely to have higher diversity in their gut bacteria,” she said. “It may seem counterintuitive, but a young breastfed infant has lower gut microbial diversity than a formula-fed infant because formula feeding increases the number of different gut bacteria.”

The results applied only to infants living close to natural spaces, regardless of whether there was a man-made park in the neighbourhood.

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