Many Health Issues Begin in the Gut: Easy tips to optimize your child’s gut health
daycare, playgrounds, and playing in the backyard are great ways to ensure supporting and building the immune system.
Gut health has become an increasingly popular topic as continued research has led to exciting discoveries about the connection between our gut and other systems in our body.
For example, research has shown that our gut is intricately connected to our brain, immune system, and digestive system. Remember that time you had butterflies in your stomach when you were very nervous about something? Well, that’s the result of the gut-brain connection. In fact, our intestinal tract houses something called a microbiome--this microbiome is a magical ecosystem that contains trillions of bacteria, viruses, and fungi that work to keep a beautiful balance between good and bad organisms in our gut.
How does the microbiome affect your child’s health?
Studies have demonstrated that a person’s first introduction to bacteria comes from the womb, followed by external factors like breastfeeding, environment, diet, and use of antibiotics. All of these factors can affect the bacterial composition of the microbiome.
Bacteria in your child’s microbiome help digest food, absorb nutrients, regulate immune function, and may have an effect on weight as well; thus, nourishing these bacteria is the key to ensuring a lifetime of great health. (Center for Ecogenetics, 2014) (Science Daily, 2018)
Think of the microbiome as a bacterial fingerprint of their health; each individual is different. Keeping the right balance of bacteria is important for maintaining current health and future physical and mental wellness.
How can we maximize your child’s gut health?
You are what you eat!
The key to enhancing gut function is to promote the growth of good bacteria by giving it food it loves. Think fiber, fiber and more fiber. Eating a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, seeds, nuts, and beans is the key to maintaining a healthy microbiome. Try playing a game with your toddler to see how many colors of the rainbow they can eat in a day. Consider giving your child natural prebiotic foods which are specialized plant fibers and can be found in foods like apples, jicama, bananas, asparagus and oatmeal. These foods support the growth of good bacteria. We should also incorporate probiotic foods like yogurt, kefir, kimchi and sauerkraut. These foods actually contain friendly live bacteria, like lactobacillus, for your gut. A quick and delicious option combining both prebiotic and probiotic foods is a daily smoothie made with kefir, oatmeal, berries and a banana...easy to make, and something your child and her gut bacteria will devour.
Exposure is key!
Did you know that having a pet early on in development can expose your children to pet allergens which could decrease their sensitivity to them, benefiting sinus & respiratory health, and increase their chances of maintaining a healthy weight as they grow? (BMC,2017) Very similarly, playing outdoors and helping out in the garden has huge benefits as it exposes them to diverse beneficial bacterial species (Science Advances, 2020). The idea is to expose your child as they are developing to a variety of different outdoor environments. So daycare, playgrounds, and playing in the backyard are great ways to ensure supporting and building the immune system.
Use antibiotics with caution!
While antibiotics can be life-saving, take caution when using them. Be sure that your child does truly need them and not just taking them for issues where they are likely to be ineffective. Discussing this with a health professional should always be key in your decision. One round of antibiotics can also kill off good bacteria while targeting the bad ones. If using, it’s always a good idea to consider supplementation with a good quality probiotic and to help replenish the microbiome by making sure your child is eating adequate plant-based foods. Frequent use of antibiotics can have a long-lasting impact on your child’s microbiome and overall health so use with caution.
Research on the microbiome is beginning to shed light on the incredible role particular microorganisms play in many different medical conditions and in mental health. Starting early with our children by focusing on the factors that nurture a healthy gut can set your child up for healthy mental and physical development.
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