A new study of the Dimes Prematurity Research Center of Stanford University suggests that the bacteria pregnant women harbor may influence preterm birth.
While bacteria residing in our bodies typically have their own functions that are quite helpful, this new study indicates that during a woman’s pregnancy, the bacteria profile change, leading to a higher risk of premature birth.
Worldwide, there are approximately 15 million babies that are delivered before term, according to World Health Organization reports. Yearly, the number rises. And while South Asia and Africa are the lead regions, accounting for more than 60 percent of the world’s preterm births, in the U.S. there are 450,000 infants that are delivered before term yearly. As such, the U.S. is the sixth country of a top 10 list comprising the highest numbers of preterm-born infants globally.
There is little indication to what may cause preterm births. It is difficult single out one factor, even when substance abuse, alcohol or tobacco or even diabetes and high blood pressure are taken out of the equation.
The study, led by Dr. David Relman who is the chief of the infectious diseases unit at the VA Hospital, Palo alto and a professor of medicine with Stanford University, looked at another possible factor playing a role in preterm births.
Namely, bacteria residing in the women’s vagina, saliva, gut and tooth and gum line. The study was conducted on bacteria samples collected from 49 pregnant women. Of these, 15 went on to deliver preterm.
For each of the women in the study bacteria samples were collected every week during pregnancy and every month for one year after their children were born. The bacteria samples were analyzed comparatively, with the researchers trying to find differences in the pre and post pregnancy bacteria samples.
While being pregnant, the women harbored largely the same type of bacteria as post-pregnancy. Moreover, there was nothing particular about the bacteria, most of them being labeled under five of the most common bacteria profiles.
The most common of them, Lactobacillus is typically a bacteria that will help with the breaking down of lactose and producing vitamin K in the body.
For the women who delivered preterm, there was however a striking similarity. This refers to the existence of two bacteria, Gardnerella and Ureaplasma, which typically do not affect the body.
In some cases, they do however lead to bacterial vaginosis or urethra inflammation in men. When these were present, Lactobacillus was relatively scarce in the samples.
The study does not make any links between the presence of some bacteria and preterm birth. Further research is needed in this direction, yet this study provides the basis for a relatively easy and cost effective procedure that could determine the risk for preterm births.
The bacterial population could then be adjusted with non-invasive treatment to reduce the risks considerably.
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