When you boost your child’s gut health by supporting the microbiome, you’re setting them up for a lifetime of wellness – plus fewer colds, less severe stomach bugs, and many more benefits as science shows how a healthy microbiome is crucial to overall wellness.
Here, you’ll find tips for helping to balance your child’s – and your own – microbiome for optimal health.
GUT HEALTH FOR KIDS
With more research developing on the importance of the microbiome, it’s becoming increasingly clear that a healthy immune system starts with a healthy gut. This is especially the case when it comes to children.
Some kids seem to get sick with every season change. Add in seasonal allergies, and it can seem like a losing battle to stay healthy. To support your child’s immune system, digestive system, and for fewer sore throats, ear aches and tummy upsets, you can take steps to keep their microbiome in balance.
Some germs (good bacteria, microbes, beneficial probiotics) are essential for health!
WHAT IS THE MICROBIOME?
Everyone has a unique microbiome that houses nearly 100 trillion bacteria. They outnumber our human cells by a factor of ten to one. Different kinds of bacteria have different jobs within our bodies. About 85 percent of them are beneficial probiotics. These good guys help kids produce vitamins, absorb nutrients, regulate their immune system, and may even influence their mood.
The first few years of a child’s life are crucial for proper microbiome development (source). Although a baby’s gut is mostly sterile in the womb (the placenta does contain some microbes), the major microbial inoculation begins as the baby descends through the birth canal, picking up vaginal bacteria along the way. Breast milk also provides tons of microbes.
As a child begins to eat solid foods, their microbiome continues to evolve based upon dietary intake and environmental factors. By about age two, a toddler’s microbiome resembles that of an adult.
THE MICROBIOME’S IMPACT ON THE IMMUNE SYSTEM
More than 80% of your immune system lives in the lining of your gut. When good bacteria are destroyed, the bad bacteria proliferate, which can lead to leaky gut and a variety of poor health conditions. Just one round of antibiotics decreases gut microbiome diversity by at least 30%. The diversity of the microbiome is key for immunity, nutrient absorption, and effects on the brain and behavior.
The microbiome also plays a role in a number of diseases caused by a disturbance in the normal balance of microbes. Low diversity in the microbiome is associated with a number of chronic illnesses including obesity, insulin resistance, high cholesterol, inflammation, Crohn’s Disease, Diabetes (both Type 1 and Type 2,) colorectal cancer, ulcerative colitis, celiac disease, allergies, chronic fatigue syndrome, and polycystic ovary syndrome. (source)
In addition to all the tips here on how to boost your child’s gut health and microbiome, these steps can also help keep the immune system strong.
- Help your child avoid sugar and processed foods. They suppress the immune system for several hours and feed the bad bacteria in the intestinal tract.
- Ensure adequate intake of good quality protein, which is the building block for the antibodies that fight infection.
- Get plenty of sleep, regular exercise, time spent in nature especially with plenty of exposure to dirt, and increase intake of green vegetables.
Try to get diverse exposure to different types of bacteria.
Don’t sanitize everything you family comes into contact with.
Eat a variety of yogurts, kombucha, kefir, fermented foods
- If you use probiotics, switch them up so you’re not constantly seeding your gut with the same strains. Diversity is key!
THE MICROBIOME & OBESITY
In 2006, Jeffrey Gordon, a biologist at Washington University in St. Louis, reported that the microbiomes of obese mice had something in common. Compared with their lean counterparts, the heavier mice had fewer Bacteroides and more Firmicutes species in their guts.
Biochemical analyses showed that this ratio made the microbes better at “energy harvest”—essentially, extracting calories from food and passing it into the body. That is, even when mice ate the same amount and type of food, the bacterial populations meant that some developed metabolic problems, while others didn’t. Similar bacterial patterns have since been confirmed in obese humans. (source)
Gordon also found that the microbiome associated with obesity is transferable. In 2013, his lab took gut bacteria from pairs of human twins in which only one twin was obese, then fed the samples to mice. The mice given bacteria from the obese humans quickly gained weight. The others did not.
HOW TO BUILD AN INFANT’S MICROBIOME
Making sure your baby’s microbiome develops properly starts with nurturing your own gastrointestinal system during pregnancy. It’s not just your genes that will pass down to your growing baby, but also your microbes. The invisible community
living in and an on you that helps me thrive will also form the foundation of your baby’s gastrointestinal and immune systems.
Microbiome seeding is generally regarded to start at birth (though new research is starting to propose that microbial transmission could occur in the womb via the placenta), through the vaginal canal, skin-to-skin contact, and breastfeeding. Eventually, the surrounding environment—other moms, dads, siblings, dogs, the ground, nature—continues to contribute to this microbial biodiversity (source).
Because you pass your own microbes on to your baby during delivery and through your breast milk, you’ll set the stage for your baby’s microbiome development and long-term wellness.
Our top recommendation for mothers (during pregnancy and beyond) is Seed’s Daily Synbiotic. Seed’s special 2-in-1 (prebiotic and probiotic) capsule and algae microsphere delivery system protect against stomach acid and safeguard viability through digestion. Its liquid prebiotic suspension acts as an additional barrier to oxygen, moisture, and heat (which bacteria are sensitive to).
We also love that Seed is as committed to planetary health as they are to human health. They offer a sustainable refill system that starts with a glass jar and continues with monthly refills (no single-use plastic). The biodegradable packaging grew from mushrooms and decomposes in soil within 30 days.
As mentioned above, a vaginal birth is ideal for boosting your child’s gut health right from the start. If you’re pregnant and already know you’ll require a C-section, talk with your OB about the option of vaginal seeding (or swabbing the baby after birth).
You’ll also want to breastfeed for as long as possible. Breast milk is full of beneficial microbes and special nutrients that feed and nourish the probiotics so they can thrive.
HOW TO SUPPORT YOUR CHILD’S GUT HEALTH
We’ll cover more about the benefits of dirt below, but the quick story is that playing in the dirt provides a child’s body with essential minerals. A study from the The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that Amish children who live on farms have about a 50% reduction in asthma, allergies, and gut-related disorders compared to children who grow up in more sterile environments.
Whether you’re concerned about your immune function or pesticides in food can help mimic the days of when you were a kid playing in the dirt and provide your body with essential minerals that it can only get if it is interacting fully with the world around it.
Probiotic amounts in supplements are measured in CFUs (colony forming units). Make sure your child gets a minimum of 100 million CFUs per dose.
Recommended Kid-Friendly Probiotics
ION* Gut Support – designed to support the body’s production of beneficial enzymes through redox signaling (cellular communication), this virtually tasteless supplement has been clinically studied and proven to help improve gut health, mental clarity, and immune function. It also protects the gut membrane from glyphosate and pesticide-laden food. It can help improve nutrient absorption and reduce inflammation. You can use code GREENCHILD to get a free travel size bottle (6 day supply) with your purchase of a 32 oz bottle.
Mary Ruth’s Organic Liquid Probiotics – organic, non-GMO and allergy free probiotic contains twelve probiotic strains in an enzyme-enriched substrate with water and a proprietary blend of 3 organic grasses.
Hyberbiotics PRO-Kids ENT – contains an oral probiotic strain called BLIS K12 that is specifically helpful for supporting the good bacteria that live in kids’ mouths and throats. This strain has been shown to benefit ear, nose, throat and upper respiratory health and should be taken in conjunction with a digestive formula.
Don’t be tempted by kid-friendly gummies with added sugars (or choose them only as a last resort). Look for an effective multi-strain kids’ probiotic formula that can withstand the stomach acid of the digestive tract, to ensure your kid gets a steady and potent dose of gut-friendly goodness.
SERVE FERMENTED & DIGESTIVE-FRIENDLY FOODS
Fermented foods such as kimchi and sauerkraut are loaded with probiotics. These can be a tough sell for kids at first, so you may want to start with fermented versions of the veggies your kids already like. Or go extremely basic with fermented ketchup or making your own yogurt.
Kefir and kombucha are also good choices. Kefir can really help with digestion. The active yeast, good bacteria, and excess digestive enzymes provide more nutritive value than yogurt by helping digest the foods you eat (source).
Eliminate gut-damaging foods. Processed foods, conventional dairy, GMO foods, gluten, and sugar cause some level of gut damage for most people. Bad bacteria feed off of sugar, so the single most impactful way to heal your gut is to kick the sugar habit.
Tea is rich in polyphenols, a prebiotic substance that help to feed the healthy bugs in your gut. Pique Tea Crystals offers a special bundle of gut-health boosting teas. Their organic tea crystals are Cold Brew Crystallized, meaning they deliver maximum antioxidant capacity – 6x the antioxidants of tea bags and 20x the antioxidants of bottled tea.
Tea crystals from Pique are triple toxin screened for pesticides, heavy metals and mold so it’s safe to drink every day. They also screen their teas for pesticides, heavy metals, and toxic mold.
DON’T BE HYPER-VIGILANT ABOUT DIRT
Of course, we know that good hand washing is the best way to prevent the spread of germs. It’s not just the visible grime you should be worried about. A good scrubbing physically removes disease-causing germs. Just be careful about over-sanitizing.
There’s much to be said about good old-fashioned soap and water. I’m not a fan of antibacterial soaps because they kill the good bacteria as well as the bad. This is such a concern that some companies are now removing the antibacterial ingredients from their hand soaps. Try this DIY foaming hand soap you can make easily with Castile soap.
And speaking of dirt, get outside and play in the dirt with your kids! It’s one of the best ways to boost your child’s gut health and immune system. Whether it’s gardening or making mud pies, this is therapeutic as well as healthy. Shielding kids from dirt may weaken their immune systems.
The Farm Effect mentioned in the Amish study above is the corollary of the “Hygiene Hypothesis,” which states that a lack of early childhood exposure to infectious agents, microorganisms and parasites increases our susceptibility to allergic diseases by suppressing the natural development of our immune systems.
Plus play helps to alleviate stress, a well-known microbiome diminisher.
USE ANTIBIOTICS ONLY WHEN ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY
When the number of good bacteria in your intestinal tract is outnumbered by the bad you may experience gas, bloating, diarrhea, and even constipation. These symptoms can range from mild to quite severe. While just getting sick can result in decreased numbers of good probiotic bacteria, antibiotic use is one of the primary reasons that good bacteria gets wiped from our system.
With certain illnesses, you don’t need medical intervention. If a decongestant or home remedies do the trick, you may not need your doctor. There’s a movement in the medical profession to cut back on prescribing antibiotics. Or if you seek treatment from an naturopathic doctor or Chinese medicine practitioner, they can help you find natural ways of supporting the body back to wellness.
When it comes to antibiotic use, Dr. Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS suggests:
- Don’t take an antibiotic for asthma symptoms, seasonal allergy symptoms, or viral infections like a cold, stomach virus, or the flu.
- Keep antibiotic use to when it’s absolutely necessary and only to treat bacterial infections in order to prevent antibiotic resistance.
- Never share antibiotics and don’t save antibiotics to use at a later time to take when you’re sick again. Always throw away any pills that are left over after your treatment is over.
- Follow antibiotic prescription directions very carefully — don’t skip doses, double up on doses or stop without finishing the cycle.
As it turns out, Mother Nature has provided foods that can reduce harmful bacteria in the body, lower inflammation, and build up protective bacteria. Oregano oil is an excellent choice because of its antiviral, antiparasitic, and antibacterial properties. Along with the probiotics and prebiotics above, add these foods into your family’s meals to boost your child’s gut health:
- Raw garlic (daily for optimum health)
- Manuka honey
IMPROVE THE MICROBIOME OF YOUR HOME
Just like your gut and your skin have their own microbiome, so does your home.
“More than sixty-three thousand species of fungi and a hundred and sixteen thousand species of bacteria” were found in one study’s swab of the interior door trim of forty homes in the Raleigh-Durham area. The results varied widely – especially if pets lived in the homes. Many beneficial species of bacteria were found, leading researchers to believe that our environmental microbiome works synergistically with us and may even help protect us from harmful bacteria.
You can improve your home’s microbiome by cleaning with mild, natural cleaning agents (no antibacterial cleaners), making sure there’s no mold growth, not wearing shoes inside to keep pesticides from disrupting the environment, and actively adding good bacteria with a product like Homebiotic spray, which is designed (and lab-tested) to reduce mold growth and improve the bacterial environment in a home.
THE SKIN MICROBIOME
The skin has its own microbiome. Just like in the gut, the skin protects against pathogens invading from the outside environment. When the healthy balance between the good and bacteria is upset, it can contribute to skin disorders and diseases.
“The same science that can heal our guts can also heal our skin and more,” explains Lindsey Moeller of Concur Microbiome Recovery. “A compromised skin microbiome, or skin dysbiosis, is a contributor to the most common skin issues. However, we are learning that our skin microbiome is not only directly responsible for skin health, but also plays a major role in our overall immunity and health by keeping pathogenic microbes at bay.”
“Our bodies are basically half human cells and half bacteria. So, when we don’t care for the natural bacteria on our bodies, we find a lot of disfunction. Maintaining a healthy skin microbiome means reducing or eliminating skin issues like acne, eczema, rosacea, psoriasis and common imbalance expression like oily, dry and sensitive skin.”
“Our microbiome changes seasonally based on climate, environment, age, hormones, ethnicity, etc. Using skincare that protects and supports the microbiome gives us the best chance to keep pathogenic bacteria from taking up residence in or on our bodies during those frequent changes. Not to mention the beauty benefits of having naturally soft, hydrated and glowing skin with far fewer skin issues.”
Topical probiotic sprays can help keep the ideal balance intact. Or go with the super budget-friendly option of DIY yogurt or kefir masks.
The short-term benefits of boosting your child’s gut health may include fewer upset stomachs, less skin sensitivities, and fewer allergies. Long-term, you’ll be helping to prepare their bodies for a lifetime of better wellness.
- Gut Health for Kids: How to Boost Your Child’s Microbiome - May 30, 2017
Jessica L says
We’ve tried both Seed and Hiya for our kids. Big fans of Hiya — it’s just a better probiotic made specifically for kids. Huge recommendation.
My kids are so picky with their food that it’s insanely difficult to give them probiotic rich foods. But this is my first time hearing about fermented ketchup! Definitely looking into that. I usually have to sprinkle probiotic onto their food to get them to eat it.