by Luke Voogt
Baby poo has helped Geelong-based researchers identify a possible cause of anxiety-like behaviours in toddlers in a recent study.
Researchers analysed faecal samples from 201 children at one, six and 12-months-old in the Barwon Infant Study, before measuring their behaviour at age two.
“It’s one of the biggest samples of its kind,” explained Amy Loughman, from Deakin University’s Geelong-based Institute for Mental and Physical Health and Clinical Treatment.
The study was the first showing that children with less Prevotella bacteria at age one were more likely to have anxiety-like behaviours at age two, she said.
Dr Loughman had a son, now a toddler, after the study commenced, which further boosted her interest in the results, she added.
The researchers used the Child Behaviour Checklist, an internationally-recognised questionnaire, to identify anxiety-like behaviours, she explained.
The behaviours included excessive shyness, sadness and an internal focus – an indicator of a higher risk of developing childhood anxiety.
“In the kids that had anxiety-like behaviours only four per cent were carrying Prevotella,” she said.
“Forty-four per cent who didn’t have anxiety like behaviour did have Prevotella.”
The results indicated a lack of the bacteria genus in the gut could lead to increased anxiety-like behaviour, Dr Loughman said.
“It’s not the last word on this but it’s a big enough result to say this is something that needs to be looked into further.”
The research could eventually lead to early intervention for children showing levels of the bacteria that put them in a higher-risk category, Dr Loughman said.
The research could also result supplementing the bacteria to treat behavioural problems, she said.
“But we need to get more research behind us before we can reach that point.”
Previous studies have linked a lack of Prevotella with Parkinson’s disease, while a US trial last year found supplementing people with the bacteria reduced autism symptoms by 50 per cent.
“It’s popping up as important to other health states,” Dr Loughman said.
Prevotalla is more prevalent in non-western people, possibly due to a diet richer in fibre, including more fruit and vegetables, and less antibiotic use, according to the study’s authors.
The study accounted for other factors that could affect behaviour, such as maternal mental health, prenatal smoking and household income, Dr Loughman said.