By Serena Gordon
TUESDAY, January 21, 2020 (HealthDay News) – Young school-age children with behavioral problems may have different bacteria in their intestines than their well-behaved peers, recent research suggests.
The study also noted that parents can play a key role in the development of the particular bacteria in their children's intestines (collectively known as the microbiome). Researchers suspect that this role even extends beyond the type of food parents give their children.
"We were interested in determining if there were aspects of the intestinal microbiome that explained the variation in behavior in children," said lead study author Thomas Sharpton.
And it seems. For example, Sharpton said: "Children in families who demonstrated stronger ties with caregivers had differences in microbiomes than those who did not." He is an associate professor of microbiology at Oregon State University in Corvallis.
Sharpton was quick to note that the study does not prove a cause and effect link.
"We are not saying that the microbiome is causing the behavior. It may be that the behavior is causing changes in the microbiome. It is difficult to untangle the confounding factors," he said.
The researchers noted that the diet did not seem to explain the changes observed in this study.
This is not the first study that connects the microbiome with children's behavior.
A team at the Texas Children's Hospital in Houston reported last May that children with autism and digestive symptoms had differences in their microbiomes compared to siblings and other children without autism. However, these researchers did not find a clear microbiome pattern that easily indicated autism.
The new study included 40 children between 5 and 7 years old. The researchers analyzed stool samples from each to identify the types of bacteria in their intestines.
Sharpton said that if large studies confirm these findings, it might be possible to find a way to use microbiome information to predict how a child's behavior could develop. Having that information could lead to previous, and possibly more successful, interventions.
Dr. Maryann Buetti-Sgouros, head of pediatrics at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco, New York, reviewed the findings.
She said: "This study reinforces the idea that there is a connection between the brain and the intestine, but I don't think the study gives us any conclusive answer. It gives us more areas of research."
Dr. Andrew Adesman, head of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Cohen Children's Medical Center in New York in New Hyde Park, had a similar reaction.
"This study adds to the set of research that suggests, even in young children of school age, that the microbiome has clinical implications that extend well beyond the GI [gastrointestinal] tract, "said Adesman.
But, as Sharpton pointed out, Adesman said it is difficult in studies like this to know for sure what factor is the cause and what could be an effect. He said more studies are needed.
"Research that examines the clinical implications of the intestinal microbiome is still in its infancy, and it will probably be a decade or more before we have a full appreciation of its true importance, especially in children," said Adesman.
The findings were published on January 21 in mBio. The study was conducted in collaboration with researchers from the University of Oregon in Eugene.