Microbes not only impact our brain and mind, but are a large part of why we feel and act the way we do. This shows just how important it is to feed our children a healthy diet to avoid chronic antibiotic use, constipation medications and other gut killing medications we give children for common ailments.
Studies have shown that digestive health plays a role beyond its basic functions of digesting and absorbing nutrients from the foods we eat. Gut health is important for brain health and directly affects mood and emotions. We also know that a good healthy gut can contribute to a healthy immune system, thus children with a healthy gut in turn have a healthier immune system and do not get sick as often. As parents we invest so much to ensure our child is healthy and happy. But often times we forget about this important factor, their digestive health.
The gut microbiome is balanced with a healthy ratio of good bacteria and yeast in the digestive tract which promote good digestive health. The gut is delicate in nature and needs to be in balance, however when it is out of whack, it can lead to problems such as the inability to absorb vital nutrients and properly eliminate toxins due to constipation. Below are a few reasons why a digestive health matters:
Maintaining the immune system
My clients are shocked when I tell them that around 70% of the immune system is located in our gut. It’s no wonder that when digestive health is compromised, the immune system is depressed and one may get sick more often. Studies have shown that probiotics may promote optimal gut health as well as reducing the risk of infections in young children. Probiotics may also decrease the severity of conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and atopic dermatitis.
Supporting learning and development
Poor gut health is associated with many unwanted symptoms such as gas, bloating, leaking of stool, smearing of stool, inability to use the toilet or trouble with potty training, constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pain and poor appetite. When children have these symptoms, they can negatively affect their concentration, learning capabilities as well as mental health. This is why proper nutrition is essential to support good gut health which in turn will have a positive impact on their development and learning capabilities.
Healthy brain function related to mood and cognitive function
According to the Center’s for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ADHD, a mental health and neurological condition, currently affects 11% of children ages 4-17. In addition to neuro counseling, nutritional therapy and improving gut health may have a dramatic effect in children with ADD, ADHD, other mood and anxiety disorders. Children who suffer from these conditions have shown remarkable improvement and overall symptom reversal by using food-healing protocols that increase health gut microbes. This can be a great relief and blessing for many families.
The one size fits all plans will not work. Eating a healthier diet will help however, there may be barriers. One common barrier can be the child’s taste preferences, often times these children will resist the foods that will restore their gut health. Parents should understand that refusal of food is a defense mechanism to the pain a child feels, so the associated of pain keep them from eating outside their box. Additionally, barriers such as cultural resistance at school, work or home can discourage them from continuing this positive habit. It may be beneficial to participate in counseling strategies that include encouraging clients to build healthy communication and confrontation skills when responding to those who question their dietary preferences.
How Will I Know if my Child’s Gut is not Healthy?
The signs of poor gut health vary and present in many different ways. The most common symptom is a digestive system that is not functioning well with symptoms such as gas, bloating, leaking of stool, smearing of stool, inability to use the toilet or trouble with potty training, constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and poor appetite. Problems with elimination can also lead to constipation, a painful experience as your child finds it difficult to pass motion due to hard, dry, and compacted stools.
How Do I Restore Balance and Improve My Child’s Gut Health?
Nutritional therapy to restore balance begins with reintroducing healthy gut microbes back into the system, replenishing deficiencies, and eliminating the bad bacteria/yeast/parasites. Probiotics and cultured foods seem to be foundational places for any effective gut-healing protocol. Additionally, try the tips below:
Support the growth of beneficial bacteria
Decrease the growth of harmful bacteria
Support stronger gut protection
Promote softer stools for easier bowel movements
Help your child consume more dietary fiber and water
Encouraging physical activity and discouraging a sedentary lifestyle
The main takeaway is that good gut health helps to support your child’s overall well-being in so many ways. Additionally, the future looks hopeful for children and families who suffer with behavioral or developmental issues. Each child is unique and will require an individualized treatment plan that is specific to that child’s needs. Seek a functional medicine provider, professional counselor or nutrition professional who is well qualified to offer these tools for improved digestive and mental health in children. It’s never too late for any of us to make gut health a priority!