Our cognitive abilities are determined by our intestinal microbiota

A study confirms that the intestinal microbiota modulates cognitive development in humans, and, more specifically, our communication abilities, via the gut-brain axis.

The first year of life is the key period for the formation of the intestinal microbiota. This microbial colonization can be influenced by many factors: mode of birth (vaginal/cesarean), environmental factors (diet, disease, use of antibiotics, etc.), and genetic factors. This period is also the most intense and rapid phase of brain maturation. Current hypotheses suggest a connection between the constitution of the intestinal flora and brain development, but they need to be confirmed.

An American team conducted a study on one-year-old babies to analyze their intestinal flora: the little subjects could be divided into three distinct groups according to their primary bacterial group. Then the researchers evaluated the cognitive abilities of one- and two-year-old children using the Mullen Scales of Early Learning (Gross Motor, Fine Motor, Visual Reception, Expressive Language, and Receptive Language). Contrary to the researchers’ original hypothesis, diversity in the microbiota was inversely correlated with better cognitive scores. The explanation put forward by the authors is that later maturation may be associated with a longer period of cerebral plasticity, which translates into better cognitive development. According to the researchers, this discovery may unlock new therapeutic options for treating developmental disorders with language or cognitive delays.

Carlson, Xia et al. 2017. Infant gut microbiome associated with cognitive development. Biological Psychiatry http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2017.06.021