Exploring gut microbiome and immunity in children

Exploring gut microbiome and immunity in children

with Pediatric Dietician and Founder of Smartbite Nutrition, Karina Savage.

Up to 75% of our immune system is found in our gut, therefore it is crucial that we nurture not only our gut health, but the gut health of our children.

The human gut is an incredible organism. It is home to more than 400 species of microbes which our body truly depends upon. Almost every day, we learn more about the importance of these vital microbes in shaping our lifelong health.

We hear a lot about “gut microbiome” – which put simply is the different communities of bacteria in our gastro-intestinal tract (AKA gut). It’s important that we have the right balance of good and bad bacteria, to enable a healthy body. When this balance is disturbed, it impacts the body.

The inside of a baby’s gut actually starts colonisation when they are in the uterus. Bacteria passes from the mother to the baby and starts the early colonisation process. This process continues when the baby is born and over the first few years of life.

These first three years of life are the most crucial in terms of establishing a healthy gut microbiome. Many factors influence how these bacterial communities develop and therefore how robust the immune system becomes. This then influences a child’s overall health and wellbeing in adulthood.

Factors that influence gut microbiome include: healthy pregnancy, natural vaginal delivery, born at full term, breast feeding, antibiotics, siblings, pets and living environment.

Starting solids is a time when the gut undergoes another transformation and the communities of bacteria evolves again. Babies that eat fibre rich nutritious foods are more likely to have a healthier gut. These fibre rich foods, otherwise known as “prebiotics” are actually the fuel for the good bacteria in our gut. This in turn nourishes our gut cells and which promotes healthy bacterial communities. Plant foods such as oats, grains, legumes, nuts (not whole), seeds, fruit and vegetables are all great food choices for babies and children which will support a healthy gut.

So what are Probiotics?

Probiotics are “non-pathogenic” live micro-organisms such as bacteria, yeasts and fungi. The most common types of probiotics available are: Lactobacillus, Bifidobacteria, Streptococcus and Saccharomyces boulardii. These probiotics can positively change the balance of bacterial communities, promoting health. Studies have shown that they can improve digestion and improve immune function.

Probiotics often work by competing with pathogens (AKA badies) in our gut helping to “rebalance” the good and bad bacteria. Different probiotics can have different effects in the body.

What Probiotics should I buy?

“Probiotic” Products come in many different forms. There are dozens of brands of probiotic foods and supplements available, like yogurts or dairy drinks, capsules, powders and liquids.

If choosing probiotics in supplement form, it’s important to know the strain that you are looking for (ie. the actual strain of probiotic that has been shown to help with your child’s situation).

• Choose products that contain the specific strain you are looking for. One or two strains of an effective probiotic are better than 10-15 less effective strains.
• Some Probiotics can now be safely stored on the shelf (compared to the fridge) as they are manufactured differently.

For more tips on ways to support your little one’s wellbeing and nutrition click here.

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