From those precious baby years to teenage-hood and beyond, the state of your child’s gut can be an important factor, not only for their growth and development, but for their contentment and happiness.
A Healthy gut equals a healthy child
We simply can’t underestimate the power of the gut in your child's health. Why?
Gut health is essential to the state of our overall health and is a classic multitasker, especially in the early stages of life. That is, the gut plays many key roles in a child’s wellbeing. Here are some of the things the gut does for your child:
- Supports healthy digestion and the ability to extract nutrients from food
- Produces those important mood regulating hormones such as dopamine, GABA and serotonin
- A healthy intestinal microbiome helps your child produce energy, vitamins and absorb nutrients
- Supports immune function - this is important from the common cold through to serious immune function throughout life
- Assists with detoxifying many of the chemicals and compounds found in the environment and our foods
The Role of the Microbiome in Children's Health
Interwoven in your child's gut is roughly 80% of their immune system. It also contains the 2nd biggest nervous system that connects directly to the brain. If you want your child to have a healthy immune system, and robust mental health, it is crucial that you focus on the gut as a key player here. It plays a pivotal role in your child’s behaviour and mood, concentration, learning ability, infections and more! The more diverse the intestinal microbiome, the better these outcomes will be.
With children it can be hard to identify what is actually going on for them with symptoms alone. This is because, depending on their age, they will not be able to express how they are feeling or understand what is normal and what is not. So having an idea on what to look for in order to build a robust microbiome is very important as a parent.
To keep an eye on how their gut is functioning, keep track of how often they open their bowels and the colour and consistency. Check the Bristol Stool Chart to see how it should look (we are all aiming for a number 3 or 4 on the stool chart found here).
Our gut bacteria are predominately inherited, from our mother during our time in her womb and from our father both before pregnancy. We also build a lot of our adult gut during and in the first 3 years of life. This means that although the quality of the microbiome is predominantly inherited, our gut health is susceptible to environmental influences including:
- antibiotic exposure as a foetus
- caesarean or vaginal birth
- antibiotic exposure through breast milk
- formula feeding
- antibiotic use as a child
- early food choices
- parasite infections
- general everyday environment
Microbial Imbalances in Your Child
There are a few key areas to look at when trying to identify microbial imbalances:
Mental Health/Mood Imbalances: An unhealthy microbiome affects the body’s ability to make neurotransmitters essential for mental health and mood. In particular low dopamine and serotonin, which can lead to irritable moods, anxiety, depression, poor sleep and constipation. Children will not know how to explain their mood so notice how their mood may have changed.
Diarrhoea: Bacterial overgrowth can cause loose stools, and diarrhoea can also cause the body to expel good bacteria.
Gas and Bloating: If your child is gassy and is complaining of stomach aches or their abdomen appears bloated or distended, this could be a sign that something is out of balance.
Constipation: Constipation can be a sign of an unhealthy gut, this includes withholding, infrequent bowel movements, complaints of stomach pain and pellets.
Food Sensitivity: Multiple food allergies are a major sign of an unhealthy gut parasite and bacterial pathogen overgrowth. Included here is fussy eating and food refusal.
Energy and Fatigue: Again, children will not express how they are feeling and notice how their energy changes throughout the day. Ask if they are tired. Does your child flag or feel tired in the afternoons?
Immune dysregulation: A child's immune system is still developing and can be common for them to get sick a few times a year. However the state of their gut health will still influence the frequency of infections. Common immune issues associated with a child's health are below:
- Consistent runny nose
- Ear infections
- Food allergies
Cravings: Our gut bacteria have a huge role in the foods we crave. If our gut bugs are compromised and out of balance, our child will be more likely to crave sugar and refined carbohydrates. A great way to gauge where your child's gut is at, is if they are constantly reaching for the sugar.
Parasitic overgrowth: Parasites will block nutrient absorption.
Food is so very critical when it comes to a child's health. We want to be replenishing and feeding their microbiome constantly so that they are achieving the correct nutrient intake. Our Microbiome is responsible for how we absorb food and nutrients, it even makes certain vitamins. It makes key metabolites such as energy-producing and mood-supporting substances. The assimilation of nutrients in the gut is directly affected by poor microbial health. With an impaired microbiome we (us and our children) are at risk of the following nutritional deficiencies:
- Low Zinc
- Vitamin D
- Omega 3's - these are important for skin health, immune function, growth and brain health. If these markers are on the lower side it will affect how the immune system is functioning. If your child is suffering from allergies, asthma, eczema and other skin related disorders, this is a good indication they may not be taking in enough in their diet, or have impaired absorption in the gut.
- Energy - lethargy is a common symptom of B12, Folate, Calcium and Iron deficiency, all of which are absorbed, or even produced (certain B vitamins and vitamin K) in a healthy gut. If your child is lacking energy, look at the microbiome and their daily food intake.
Create Healthy Habits for Your Child!
Here are the best hacks for supporting your child with their nutrition and microbiome.
- Encourage their beneficial bacteria to bloom using fermented food! This is one of the best ways to keep your child's gut health cranking. Consuming our Kultured Wellness yogurt and kefir will cover all the bases. Bifidobacterium are so important for children to consume as they are responsible for immune system development and reducing the occurrence of food allergies. Bifidobacterium is abundant in our coconut yoghurt and is a really easy way to start your family on fermented foods.
- Eating a balanced diet that includes protein, fibre, vegetables, fruit, and whole foods helps maintain gut health.
- Avoid foods that are high in salt and sugar, which feed bad bacteria.
- Proper hydration is essential for a healthy gut.
- Adequate exercise and good sleep hygiene help support overall health and wellness, including in the gut.
In a Nutshell!
Being aware of the impact of gut health on our kids, their learning and development, their mental health, their energy and nutrition... is so important! Getting the right food into a healthy gut is a recipe for success for us and our precious children. Over the age of two, we can reliably test their microbiome to identify areas of concern and start to make changes.
Focus on fermented foods, wholefoods, remove processed foods and sugars, include a balance of healthy fats, fruits and vegetables and quality proteins. Add in some movement and exercise and you will be supporting the development of a healthy microbiome.
For testing options follow this link.
To see the full range of our Kultured Wellness Starter Cultures, click here.
We specialise in working with complex conditions and children. Please click here for information on our 1:1 Programs.