Under the Hood

Do Gut Bacteria Affect Children’s Behavior?

A new study shows that changes in the bacteria in the gut of children may be contributing to their behavioral disorders. Researchers said the findings may help improve the approach to treating such conditions in early childhood. 

The study, published in the journal mBio, found that unique microorganisms are present in the gut of children with behavioral problems. The findings come from the analysis of the microbiome of 40 children, aged 5 to 7 years, from different socioeconomic groups, Medical News Today reported

“Most studies to date have linked microbiome composition to infant and toddler behaviors, such as extroversion, fear and cognitive development,” Thomas Sharpton, senior study author and an associate professor at Oregon State University, said. “It hasn’t been clear, though, that the microbiome associates with other forms of behavioral dysregulation or if it links to the onset of psychiatric disorders and problem behaviors.”

The researchers took stool samples from the children to analyze the composition of bacteria in their guts. Caregivers also answered questionnaires about the children’s behavior and the quality of their relationship.

Results showed that the children who had higher socioeconomic risk also had different microbial profiles compared to participants at lower socioeconomic risk. Those who showed signs of behavioral dysregulation, such as the ability to inhibit impulses and depression, also appeared with distinct microbial profiles. 

Researchers found the species of Bacteroides fragilis plays a role in socioeconomic risk and behavioral dysregulation. 

“Interestingly, B. fragilis [was] associated with reduced levels of aggression, anxiety, emotional reactivity, externalizing behavior and impulsivity, as well as an increase in inhibitory control (i.e., better mental health),” researchers said in the study. “B. fragilis was also associated with lower reported incidents of family turmoil.”

However, other bacterial species have negative effects on behavior. The children with more Coprococcus comes are more likely to have an aggressive behavior, while those with Eubacterium rectale have lower inhibitory control.

Sharpton said the findings may help develop methods to modify, manipulate or manage the microbiome in children and help manage or control the development of their behavior. The researchers plan to continue the study with more children and follow first participants for several more years. 

Children Gut health A study found that unique microorganisms are present in the gut of children with behavioral problems Pixabay