Canadian researchers have identified differences in the intestinal bacteria of babies that can help predict future development of food allergies and asthma.

In a study published in the journal Clinical & Experimental Allergy, researchers from the University of Alberta and the University of Manitoba examined the stool samples of 166 different infants at the age of three months and then again at one year old. 

The infants were enrolled in the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development Study (CHILD), which involves more than 3,500 families and their infants across Canada.

They found that infants with fewer different bacteria in their gut at three months of age are more likely to become sensitized to foods such as milk, eggs and peanuts by the time they are one.

Dr. Anita Kozyrskyj, one of the study's authors and a professor at the University of Alberta, said the bacteria are an early indication of potential risk for allergies or asthma down the road.

"It's a first report to indicate that there's something amiss, there's some changes already that can be detected in your gut that would indicate that these infants are at risk," she told CTV Edmonton.

Kozyrskyj said in 10 years’ time, doctors could begin to regularly analyze infant stool samples for increased risk for food sensitization, asthma or becoming overweight.

The study’s lead author, Meghan Azad, said that the analysis could ultimately help doctors and parents prevent the onset of illness.

"Ultimately, we hope to develop new ways of preventing or treating allergies, possibly by modifying the gut microbiota," she said.

The researchers hope to eventually analyze data from as many as 2,500 children from across Canada, and examine the results at the ages of three and five.