by Dr. Lawrence Hoberman
With run-amuck meals at all hours of the day and night, combined with lots of sugary sweets close at hand, a child’s gut health will need some major TLC to recover, even weeks after the recent holiday season. Protecting the balance of beneficial bacteria in your child’s developing gut is important for a host of healthy reasons.
If you made the difficult decision to deliver your child via Caesarean section versus natural childbirth, a 2014 Swedish study showed that your baby’s immune health may be compromised from the get-go. Based on a comparison of fecal samples, C-section babies had less gut diversity (a lower range of good gut bacteria) during the first two years of their lives, compared to babies born vaginally.
Also, C-section babies had unbalanced levels of an immune system chemical (Th1) in their blood, making them more vulnerable to developing allergies. That’s why giving your newborn the healthiest start of all by delivering him/her naturally is so critical. This healthy first step exposes your child to the beneficial bacteria your body naturally produces that can lower your baby’s risks from a range of serious problems, including irritable bowel syndrome and diabetes.
The Terrible Twos and Gut Health
You may not realize that your toddler’s unique gut microbiome may contribute to those mood swings associated with the “Terrible Twos.” There’s actually much more going on besides fussy behavior. According to researchers at Ohio State University’s Center for Clinical and Translational Science, those mood swings may provide indicators for early stages of chronic diseases like allergies, asthma, bowel disease and even obesity. In a study appearing in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, intestinal bacteria interact with stress hormones, the same ones linked to chronic illnesses like obesity and asthma, according to Ohio State University researchers.
In general, children who had the most genetically diverse gut bacteria more often displayed the behaviors connected with positive mood, impulsivity, sociability and curiosity.
You’ve likely heard about all sorts of problems linked to the overuse of broad-spectrum antibiotics. Vulnerable children whose immune systems are developing each day aren’t exempt from these health challenges. A recent study featured in the journal Cell explained some of the gut-related problems associated with antibiotics that can do more harm than good when prescribed too often.
In studies on mice, researchers at New York University’s Lagone Medical Center found that animals fed low doses of penicillin became fatter, particularly those exposed to this standard antibiotic before birth. NYU scientists also discovered that antibiotics didn’t necessarily reduce the amount of bacteria in the guts of test animals, a long-assumed fact by many studying the gut.
Exposure to penicillin did, however, decrease the diversity of four major strains of beneficial gut bacteria, including Lactobacillus, an ingredient contained in many probiotics.
Probiotics Can Help
If your child was exposed to antibiotics at an early age (nearly 70 percent of children were prescribed an antibiotic at least twice by age 2, according to JAMA Pediatrics), that exposure may be the reason for a decreased amount of good bacteria in a child’s gut.
Fortunately, there is a safe, simple non-drug step to improve your growing child’s gut healthy. Live bacteria prepared in a dietary supplement called a probiotic can do wonders to restore a child’s natural balance of gut bacteria and protect their immune system.
“Probiotics help fill that void we have because of life in the 21st century,” says Dr. Josephine Ruiz- Healy, a clinical associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio. “A good blend of live probiotics seems essential to protect our kids and help them develop and maintain a healthy immune system.”
There are a couple of important things to consider when choosing the right probiotic for your health:
- Find a probiotic that contains multiple strains of beneficial live bacteria that offer many benefits.
- Determine that the probiotic you’re considering contains prebiotics and non-digestible carbohydrates and plant fibers that feed the good bacteria already living in your gut.
While you can find probiotics in refrigerated cases in many grocery stores, consider brands that require no refrigeration, as many of them are cheaper, easier to take on trips and retain their quality if they are stored in cool, dry areas.
Because the human body is so complex, you should speak with your child’s pediatrician about giving him/ her probiotics first, to ensure doing so won’t conflict with any ongoing health condition.
Dr. Lawrence Hoberman is a San Antonio-based board-certified gastroenterologist with more than 40 years experience practicing medicine. He is also the creator of EndoMune Advanced Probiotic and EndoMune Advanced Junior for Kids. EndoMune Advanced Junior became the first probiotic certified by the North American organization Parent Tested, Parent Approved. Dr. Hoberman is a member of the physician team at Health by Design in San Antonio. To learn more, visit www.endomune.com or www.healthbydesign.com.