Why your child’s gut health matters

There are many joyful first steps in our kids’ development. First laugh, first word, first day at school.

But what about the first step in your child’s wellbeing? You might be surprised to learn that one of the major players influencing their wellbeing is gut health.

The way our gut influences our wellbeing doesn’t end in childhood. Damage to our gut microbiome in childhood can stay with our kids for a lifetime, affecting their health in adulthood.

What are good bacteria, and why do they matter?

You may have heard that you have bacteria in your gut. Adults generally have 100 trillion bacteria in their gut – that’s more than stars in the milky way.

The gut microbiome consists of good and bad bacteria, all of which influence your health – particularly your digestive health, cardiovascular system, immunity and your moods. Good bacteria support healthy function, while bad bacteria can cause problems like food intolerance, bad sleep, low moods and chronic conditions.

While adult microbiomes are fairly stable, children’s microbiomes continue to change until they reach adulthood. Kids’ microbiomes are also less diverse as they are still developing.

Though healthy, kids’ microbiomes are more vulnerable than adults’ and negative changes can affect their health – sometimes in ways which affect them for a lifetime. Autoimmune conditions are one of the ways that damage to the gut microbiome can manifest. [1]

Your gut / brain axis

The gut / brain axis links the emotional and cognitive centres of the brain with intestinal function. [2]

This enhances communication between your brain and your gut. You know the term ‘gut feeling’ – it’s a very real thing because of this cross communication.

And the impact of gut health on our emotional wellbeing doesn’t stop there – many of our neurotransmitters are made in our gut. 90% of neurotransmitter serotonin is made in our gut, alongside other feelgood chemicals like GABA, which manage feelings of stress and anxiety, as well as regulating sleep.

The gut and brain are also connected via the vagus nerve, which plays a role in digestion, mental health and relaxation as well as your heart and respiratory rate. This nerve is stimulated by bacteria in the gut.

Your gut and immunity

70% of your immune system lives in your gut. A balance of good bacteria in the gut provides a healthy environment for your immune system to function.

Not only that, but the good bacteria in your gut help regulate your immune system. They also create proteins, carbohydrates and carry out other processes which facilitate communication between the lining of your gut and your immune cells.

A healthy balance of good bacteria in your child’s gut supports the absorption of nutrients from their food. Nutritional deficiencies in vitamins A, B6, folate, C, D, E and minerals like zinc, selenium and iron can inhibit our kids’ immune health.

Common gut problems in kids

Dysbiosis is a major gut problem affecting children and adults – in fact, 40% of the Hong Kong population is estimated to have the condition.

It occurs when the bad bacteria in your gut outweigh the good and can cause a whole host of issues like constipation, diarrhoea, low energy and fatigue, poor concentration, low mood, impaired immunity and more.

Dysbiosis can also prevent the gut from absorbing nutrients, causing deficiencies, which are particularly harmful to children as they’re growing and developing.

Unknown food intolerances can cause chronic gut problems. If food intolerances remain undiagnosed and your child continues eating the food that they’re intolerant to, they’ll experience symptoms like gas, gut discomfort and diarrhoea.

Long-term, these issues can irritate the lining of the gut and result in something called leaky gut, which is when the gut becomes permeable, allowing toxins from the gut to escape into the body.

Constipation, reflux and diarrhoea are common gut symptoms among children – but they are usually a symptom of another issue.

Constipation in kids can be caused by not eating enough fibre-rich foods like fruits and vegetables, not drinking enough water, dysbiosis and stress.

Constipation in kids can become cyclical – as going to the toilet is painful, they may avoid doing so and become more constipated. Supplements and dietary recommendations can help ease constipation in kids.

Diarrhoea can be caused by food intolerances, dysbiosis, and viruses. Diet may also be a factor, drinks and foods high in sugars can cause loose bowel movements.

Reflux may be caused by foods high in saturated fats, eating too much food, lying down after a meal, or stress.

Some signs to watch out for that may indicate your little one’s gut health is not what it should be include

  • Constipation and / or diarrhoea
  • Bloating, indigestion and reflux
  • Food intolerance
  • Gut pain
  • Frequent colds and flu
  • Low mood and stress

What affects a child’s gut microbiome?

Many factors affect the constitution of your child’s microbiome, depending on which stage of development they’re in.

During pregnancy, the bacterial makeup of the child’s mother’s gut and vagina plays a role, as does the delivery method. Children delivered via caesarean are shown to have a healthier, more diverse microbiome. [3]

Kids who are breast fed are also more likely to have a more robust microbiome.

Antibiotics, diet, genetics, stress and later in adolescence, hormones, also play a factor in the diversity and resilience of your child’s gut microbiome.

Natural solutions for improving gut health

If your child is experiencing any symptoms that could be related to their gut health, it’s best to get ahead of any potential issue and have them tested.

Our first rate tests can identify common problems like dysbiosis, food intolerances, nutritional deficiencies and more.

If you’re unsure which tests you need, you should talk to one of our naturopaths. As well as figuring out if your child requires testing, they can also recommend dietary and lifestyle changes to support your child in developing a healthy gut microbiome.

What’s next?

If you want to improve your child’s gut health, we can help.

Find the support you need with our naturopaths. Connect with us below, and we'll be in touch shortly.

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