3 Ways to Optimize Gut Health (with diet) in Children and Why it's so Important
Most parents would agree that they want to set their children up for success from a young age. We often think about doing this through proper education, experiences and a good diet. But have you ever thought about how optimizing a child's gut health may be helpful for life long health?
Now, more than ever before, we are starting to understand how important gut health is for wellness. The gut health, or more specifically the microbes in your gut help to control your digestion but also effects your immune system, weight gain, blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Emerging research on the child's microbiome shows that microbes in the body may help with the development of the immune system, nervous system and growth. Improving the health of the microbiome from a young age can be beneficial for years to come. On the other hand, adverse changes to the microbiome at a young age can increase the risk of chronic illness and inflammatory bowel disease.
Microbes that live in our gut are so small that we cannot see them with the human eye. So far, researchers have identified more than 2,000 different species of microbes that live in or on humans and most of the microbes in our bodies live in the gut!, Before babies are born, there are very few microbies living on or in their bodies. At the time of birth, the baby is exposed to new microbes, both during the action of birth as well as the first contact with the external environment. As babies grow from children into adults, microbes in the gut change and evolve. The type of microbes in the gut depend on genes, the environment we live in, what we drink and what we eat.
Having healthy microbiota in the gut may help to prevent against the development of autoimmune disease. The immune system in our bodies is constantly working towards a state of balance. This balance is achieved by signals of activation and de-activation. If the balance is disturbed it can result in sickness and disease. Scientists have discovered that butyrate, a product produced by gut bacteria can help to instruct the immune system to make de-acitvating signals, preventing the immune system from overreacting against itself and thus may prevent against the development of autoimmune disease. Not only that, microbes in the gut can help to defend against bacteria or pathogens that may make us sick. For example, if you were to eat or drink some bacteria (like salmonella) in many cases you will not become ill. This is because the microbes in the gut will directly fight off the invaders that produce substances that can destroy them and also stimulate your immune system to help get rid of the bacteria.
Ensuring good gut health in children not only can improve their immune systems and possibly prevent the development of autoimmune diseases but it also can:
Help prevent against constipation and diarrhea
May improve mental health
As mentioned above, many factors contribute to the microbes in the gut. Some of these, like genetics, we cannot modify. However some we can work towards improving and optimizing with food, lifestyle and natural supplements.
3 Ways to Improve gut health (microbes) with diet:
If you can, breastfeed your baby for at least 6 months. Breast milk is high in a beneficial bacteria called bifidobacteria. Studies have shown that the gut bacteria is different in infants that are breast fed compared to infants that are formula bed. There appears to be a critical window between the ages of 0-3 months to seed and support the microbiome in infants and mothers milk has been found to be very beneficial during this time. Breastfeeding may also be associated with reduced rates of obesity, allergies and asthma.
Feed your children a diet high in polyphenols. These are plant compounds that have many health benefits including reducing inflammation. Polyphenols are not not absorbed by the stomach well and thus make their way to the colon where beneficial microbes feed off them and increase their numbers. Polyphenols have been known to increase the amount of healthy bacteria like bifidobacteria and lactobacilli in humans and reduce the amounts of the harmful bacteria clostridia. 5 foods that contain high amounts of polyphenols that kids can enjoy include grapes (specially the skin), almonds, onions, bluberries and broccoli.
Include fermented foods in your children's diet. Fermented foods used to be a staple of many peoples diets worldwide. Today, humans tend to eat a reduced amount of fermented food compared to historic consumption. Research shows that people that do eat a lot of fermented foods, like yogurt, have more of the beneficial bacteria lactobacilli in their intestines. Fermented food consumption may also reduce the non-beneficial bacteria enterobacteriacea. This reduction can help to possible reduce chronic health conditions and inflammation in the body. Healthy fermented foods include: yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha and kefir.
In future posts, I will be discussing the other ways we can help enhance gut health in adults and children alike!
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