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Startup pioneers at-home test kits to assess mother and baby gut health

Article-Startup pioneers at-home test kits to assess mother and baby gut health

© AdobeStock/Syda Productions Startup pioneers at-home test kits to assess mother and baby gut health
Scientists are beginning to unravel the impact of the gut microbiome on the wellbeing of mothers and their babies.

Tiny Health is one startup looking to address gut health in these crucial early years, offering at-home test kits that use sequencing and AI technology to profile mother and baby microbiomes and identify risk factors linked to microbial imbalances.

These factors relate to the risk of developing eczema, food allergies, asthma, type one diabetes, and obesity later in life. Founded by CEO Cheryl Sew Hoy, Tiny Health hopes to identify and intervene at the earliest point possible.

“Tiny Health is the first microbiome test designed for moms and babies 0-3 years old,” the company said. “The primary driver of Tiny Health’s existence was for parents to understand what’s in their and their baby’s guts.

“We empower families to take control of their gut health now, by bringing the latest microbiome science to parents so that they can take action when it matters most, not 10 years later when this science finally gets adopted into medical practice.”

Scientific literature points to drawbacks of a caesarean section

Tiny Health’s microbiome platform is underpinned by scientific literature that points to caesarean section-born babies as being more likely to miss out on the seeding process by the mother’s vaginal and gut bacteria at birth.

Further evidence also suggests that antibiotic use during the procedure may modify gut microbiota composition and function, reducing intestinal host defences and increasing susceptibility to an allergy.

Such is the influence of the gut microbiome, its health is now seen as an indicator or predictor of other aspects of overall wellbeing, such as immune health.

With the discovery of the gut-brain axis, the gut has even been implicated in cognitive health and function.

Tiny Health explained that while its kits focus on mother and baby gut microbiomes, there is scope to garner further insights into other health areas and the nutrition required to boost gut strains.

“Tiny Health uses deep shotgun metagenomic sequencing, a gold standard in microbiome research today, which enables us to detect up to 120,000 microbes, and give a complete picture of the gut community and how it may relate to overall well-being,” the team added.

“Our reports include key insights including immune strength, metabolic health, histamine and vitamin production, anti-inflammatory markers, short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) production, sugar and fibre digestion, overabundant species, gut inflammation (leaky gut), protein breakdown, and more.”

At-home gut health tests ‘designed to support parents’

Founded in 2020, Tiny Health acknowledges that insights gained from its kits are not to be interpreted as medical instruction as to whether a C-section should be performed or not.

Equally, the kits do not have the last word on whether a mother chooses to use formula milk, which has been linked to changes in gut microbiota diversity.

The company said its tests were designed to “support parents even when medical interventions like C-sections or formulas are necessary.”

It added: “We recognise that C-sections can save lives and that breastfeeding is not possible for every mom. In our reports, we do not impose anything on the parent and offer many options to support the parent and baby’s guts.”

Tiny Health goes on to explain that if medical interventions are deemed necessary, it offers a plan for a “gentle C-section” that optimises the baby’s gut health (eg. a vaginal seeding procedure).

Likewise, if a baby needs formula, Tiny Health recommends products that can help optimise gut health or offers prebiotics that parents can add to formula for more support.

© AdobeStock/Daisy Daisy Startup pioneers at-home test kits to assess mother and baby gut health

“Surprisingly, from our dataset, we see that even 30% of vaginally born and breastfed babies don’t have an ideal gut type,” said Tiny Health.

“Most of the time, it’s because the gut or vaginal microbiomes of the mother [were] lacking certain key microbes, perhaps through the mother’s own prior early life factors, diet, or antibiotic exposure.

“Therefore, we recommend that every pregnant mother be tested if they’re trying to conceive or as soon as they get pregnant – and every baby as early as possible (starting at seven days old), regardless of the type of birth.”

Could at-home gut health kits work as a personalised lifestyle guide?

Looking into the technology employed in these kits, it is not unreasonable that their insights could form the basis of a personalised lifestyle guide, which extends to everyday actions and behaviours designed to keep the gut in optimal health.

When put to the team at Tiny Health, they said: “We actually already offer science-backed lifestyle advice that includes avoiding antibacterial soap or overuse of harsh hand sanitisers, as well as being aware of a ‘sterile’ environment.

“We can detect if a child or adult’s gut microbiome is lower in diversity and will urge people to spend more time in nature and with animals. If you think about it, our ancestors used to grow up on farms and were outdoors 80% of the time.

“Now, we spend 80% of our time indoors in front of electronics, so imagine what this drastic shift in lifestyle does to the diversity of our gut microbiome. So even if you think you’re spending a lot of ‘weekend’ time outdoors, you may need more.”