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Notes from the 2014 International Nutrition and Growth Conference in Barcelona

I was fortunate to be able to escape the “polar vortex” 3 weeks ago and travel to sunny Barcelona, Spain for the 2nd International Conference on Nutrition and Growth, a 3-day gathering of doctors, researchers, nutritionists, nurses, and other specialists from around the world. During this conference I learned about the most recent research regarding neonatal and pediatric nutrition, breastfeeding, probiotics, obesity, maternal diet and nutrient supplementation during pregnancy, epigenetics, and the microbiome. I was also given a fair amount of free time to explore one of the most beautiful cities in the world. As an added bonus I was able to eat GF like a queen throughout the city (there will be an upcoming post about this). If it was not for my family, job, and other “real life” things I am not sure that I would ever have left Barcelona!

Although I have pages and pages of notes, abstracts, and presentation slides to sort through, there were some common themes that were repeated over and over again at the conference. Although we’ve heard many of these ideas before, and none of them are “rocket science,” I feel compelled to share, as they are all very important. Here they are, in no particular order:

1. We need for our children to play outside as much as they can. It is good for them to play in and eat dirt, as this strengthens their microbiomes. Having a healthy population of gut bacteria helps to prevent against the later development of allergies and celiac disease. Exposure to sunshine, even on cold winter days, is crucial for the development of healthy bones and teeth.

2. All us need to eat more fish and green leafy vegetables, especially when we are pregnant. The “good” fats in fish, such as salmon, play a huge role in the development of a fetus’ immune system. Green leafy vegetables, such as kale, are full of micronutrients that are important for the development of fetal and infant brains. We need to really pay attention to what we are eating and drinking when we are pregnant, as our diets during pregnancy play a large role in the lifetime health of our unborn babies.

3. We should probably all be taking probiotics, or at least considering doing so. The higher one’s level of Lactobacilli and Bifidobacterium (good bacteria) in the gut, the less likely one is to develop celiac disease and food allergies later on. Researchers are also finding that an overgrowth of “bad” gut bacteria can predispose both to obesity and mental health issues. The best source of probiotics for babies is breast milk.

4. Rapid weight gain during infancy is not a good thing. If a newborn infant gains too much weight during the first few months of life, he or she will have a much higher risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome as an adult. Infant obesity is being recognized as an emerging problem in first world countries. Healthy term infants should not be fed on a schedule and should not be forced to continue eating when they no longer seem hungry.

5. All infants need to get their own mother’s breast milk, even if the breastfeeding is partial. The evidence is clear that breastfeeding leads to decreased infections during infancy, improved immune system functioning, optimal brain development, and the establishment of a healthy microbiome. Some breast milk is much better than none at all! When a mother cannot provide breast milk, donor breast milk should be considered, especially for premature infants.

6. Solid foods (including those containing eggs, milk, gluten, etc.) should be introduced to an infant between 4 and 6 months of age, while still being breastfed. This is a critical time in the development of the immune system, and there’s enough research out there showing that babies who receive breast milk when solids are introduced during this time frame have a much lower risk of the later development of both food allergies and celiac disease.

I could keep going but am going to stop for the sake of brevity. As I make my way through some more of my notes, I’ll post information that may be of interest to you. Feel free to ask questions too. I love when readers comment, ask questions, and share their experiences and ideas.  I’ll definitely share my Barcelona dining experiences in an upcoming post as well, as it truly is a great destination for those of us with celiac disease (and non-celiacs too!)