Nursing Could Benefit Microbiome, Vaccine Response

In addition to providing nutrients the calf uses directly, nursing influences the gut microbiome and potentially improves long-term immune responses. ( Farm Journal )

In humans and all mammals, scientists have long known that mother’s milk provides optimum nutrition for early development and benefits in long-term health. Research also has shown between beneficial gut microbes, gut health and immunity. New research in human infants, from the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS), now helps explain some of the associations between the gut microbiome and subsequent immune response to vaccines. The ongoing research could have implications for neonatal nutrition in livestock.

This initial research, from scientists at the Immunity and Disease Prevention Research Unit at the ARS Western Regional Human Nutrition Center in Davis, California, involved infants in Bangladesh, who already were participating in a study on vitamin A supplementation. The infants all breastfed for at least 15 weeks after birth. The observational study on gut microbiomes does not demonstrate cause and effect, but revealed some interesting associations.

Previous research has shown that breast milk provides nutrients that encourage growth of beneficial bacteria, specifically those from the genus Bifidobacterium, in the infant’s gut. In this study, infants received vaccines against tuberculosis, polio, tetanus, and hepatitis B before 15 weeks of age. Those with the highest populations of Bifidobacterium at the time of vaccination demonstrated 42% to 107% greater antibody response to vaccination compared with those with the lowest levels.

"Perhaps the most surprising result was how persistent the enhanced vaccine response remained,” says the center’s research leader Charles B. Stephensen in an ARS article. “Even though vaccination occurred before four months, the babies continued to show the heightened vaccine response for at least another 20 months."

For more on the role of the gut microbiome in animal health, see these articles from BovineVetOnline:

Dissecting the Microbiome

Endomicrobial Ecology Could Harness Diversity of Cattle Microbiome

Encourage the “Good Bugs”

The Effects of Probiotics on Calf Health and Productivity