Mom Transmits ‘Bad’ Bacteria Along with the Good to Her Young

Ken Tudor, DVM
March 17, 2015
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The lining of the intestinal tract, from the mouth to the anus, is actually outside of the body! Is this true? Yes, think of the digestive tract as a hose extending from the mouth to the anus. Everything inside the hose is actually outside of the body. That is why it is dirty.

Every inch of the digestive tract is teaming with bacteria from the outside world. If this were not true we wouldn’t have to wash our hands after clearing something from our mouth or wiping our bottom. If those bacteria were actually inside the body we would have been a dead-end species very early on, or more immediately, would now be dead. But as I have posted here before, gut bacteria is important and it is the balance of gut bacteria that determines whether we are healthy or diseased both inside the body and in the intestinal tract.

Recent research in mice suggests that inflammatory bowel diseases may be caused by mothers infecting their young with certain bacteria from mom’s own gut.

Inflammatory Bowel Diseases

Inflammatory bowel diseases cause inflammation and swelling of the lining of the stomach and intestines that interferes with normal gut functions. Pets stricken with these conditions have chronic vomiting and/or diarrhea, depending on whether the condition is worse in the lining of the stomach and upper intestines (vomiting) or the lower intestines and colon (diarrhea).

Pets affected throughout the intestinal tract experience both chronic vomiting and diarrhea. Often these pets lose significant weight and are generally unhealthy by the time they are diagnosed.

The cause of these has always been thought to be an over-reaction of an animal’s own immune system that was inherited genetically, or the result of a chronic immune response to disease or other immune stimulation. The result is a constant rejection of a pet’s own intestinal lining by its immune system, causing the inflammation.

This new study in Nature suggests that these conditions may be caused by a lack of a protective class of antibodies due to a particular gut bacteria that mom gives her young during birth, nursing, grooming, and licking the young to clean them after fecal and urinary elimination.

Antibody Deficiency

Inflammatory bowel diseases in humans, like Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, inflammatory bowel disease and chronic diarrhea, have been associated with a deficiency of immunoglobulin A or IgA.

IgA is a class of antibodies known as “surface antibodies.” They are the first line of defense where the outside world meets the body. IgA is plentiful in the mouth, nose, eyes, ears, gut, anus, penis, and vulva to protect the body from bacterial invasion. According to this study, a particular gut bacteria called Sutterella transferred from mom to her offspring inhibits the production of IgA in the intestines and is responsible for chronic inflammatory bowel diseases.

Make no mistake, moms, human and animal also seed their young with “good” bacteria during the birthing, nursing, grooming, and elimination hygiene activities. This study highlights how intricate the balance of the gut micro-environment really is and how “bad” bacteria from mom can also affect the health of her young.

Dr. Ken Tudor

Image: Rosa Jay / Shutterstock