The word bacteria can strike fear in any mother. But did you know that your child's growth and development depends on the presence of trillions of good bacteria in his gut? Read on to find out more.
Just the mention of the word bacteria is enough to strike panic in many mums. After all, aren’t they the monstrous microscopic creatures that cause their children to fall sick?
They are dangerous little things and must be rid of, right? Actually no, not quite.
There are some bacteria that are absolutely essential to help support your child's healthy gut, which can affect his total well-being. These "good" or friendly bacteria help support the functions of his gut such as digesting his food, protecting him from infection-causing bad bacteria and influencing his mood, thus supporting his physical and mental well-being.
Where do the good bacteria live?
Here is an astonishing fact: The microbes in our body outnumber human cells by 10:11, and majority of them live in our gut. In fact, taken together, the gut microbiota (all the microbes in the gut) weighs more than the brain2.
Given this rather large concentration of bacteria in our bodies, it is logical to assume that they do actually play a rather important role in the functioning of our bodies, right from birth.
What do the good bacteria do?
One of the main, and most obvious, functions that the bacteria in your child’s gut perform is to support digestion.
However, that is just one of the things that your child’s gut does. It is central to your child’s overall health and well-being because it impacts his physical growth and brain development through nutrient absorption, builds his natural defences, as well as influences his mood.
Research is increasingly linking digestive health to overall health3. Here is how your child’s healthy gut microbiota positively impacts his gut health and total well-being.
Why good gut health matters:
Supports Physical Growth
Good bacteria facilitate digestion and absorption processes, especially breaking down complex food that the stomach and small intestines have difficulties to do so. The digested food and absorbed nutrients provide all the energy and the nutrition that your child’s growing body needs. For example, protein is important to achieve good growth. A sub-optimal protein intake may lead to growth failure4,5.
Supports Brain Development
Digested nutrients such as DHA and ARA provide building blocks for optimal brain development. In addition, an essential trace nutrient such as iron – sent to the brain via the gut – is important to achieve good brain development. Insufficient iron intake may lead to impaired cognitive development6,7.
Supports the development of his Natural Defences
70% of the body’s immune cells are located in the gut8. The gut microbiota plays a crucial role in creating an effective immune status by helping crowd out bad bacteria and helping to manage allergies and intolerance9,10.
Helps in modulation of mood
90% of the body’s serotonin – the chemical compound which helps in the modulation of your child’s mood, appetite, sleep, motility and transit – is secreted in the gut11. The gut microbiota plays a central role in serotonin production. Adequate amount of serotonin means that the child sleeps well, has a healthy appetite and good digestion. This makes him feel well-fed and well-rested and therefore happier and more receptive to the stimuli around him.
Support the Gut–Brain communication
The gut and the brain engage in a constant two-way communication. This communication is important as the brain sends emotional messages which impact the functioning of the gut and the gut communicates messages of comfort, satiety, and sleep to the brain. This communication happens via the 100 million nerve cells located in the gut12. Guess who helps the nerve cells to function properly? You guessed it – the gut microbiota.
It is clear that your child’s gut does more than just digestion. The presence of plenty of good bacteria in your child’s gut indicates a healthy gut which helps provide the building blocks to support the development of his brain and body, and influences his day-to-day learning activities and moods. Therefore, it is important for you to nurture the development of healthy gut microbiota in your child from the very beginning.
1Grice EA, Segre JA. The human microbiome: our second genome. Annu Rev Genomics Hum Genet. 2012;13:151-70
2Bäckhed F, Ley RE, Sonnenburg JL, Peterson DA, Gordon JI. Host-bacterial mutualism in the human intestine. Science 2005;307:1915-1920
3Bischoff S. Gut Health: A new objective in medicine? BMC Med. 2011; 9:24
4Ziegler, E.E. and S.J. Carlson, Early nutrition of very low birth weight infants. J Matern Fetal Neonatal Med, 2009. 22(3): p. 191-7
5Kashyap, S., et al., Growth, nutrient retention, and metabolic response in low birth weight infants fed varying intakes of protein and energy. J Pediatr, 1988. 113(4): p. 713-21
6Hurtado EK, Claussen AH, Scott KG. Early childhood anaemia and mild and moderate mental retardation. Am J Clin Nutr 1999; 69:115-119
7Kashyap, S., et al., Growth, nutrient retention, and metabolic response in low birth weight infants fed varying intakes of protein and energy. J Pediatr, 1988. 113(4): p 713-21
8Furness JB, Kunze WA, Clerc N. Nutrient tasting and signalling mechanisms in the gut. II. The intestine as a sensory organ: neural, endocrine, and immune responses. AM J Physiol. 1999 Nov; 277 (5 Pt 1): G922-8
9Wopereis H, Oozeer R, Knipping K, Belzer C, Knol J. The first thousand days – intestinal microbiology of early life: establishing a symbiosis. Pediatr Allergy Immunol. 2014 Aug;25(5):428-38.
10 Fiocchi A, Pawankar R, Cuello-Garcia C, etal. World Allergy Organization – McMaster University Guidelines for Allergic Disease Prevention (GLAD-P): Probiotics. World Allergy Organ J. 2015 Jan 27;8(1):4
11 Baganz NL, Blakely RD. A dialogue between the immune system and brain, spoken in the language of Serotonin. ACS Chem Neurosci. 2013 Jan 16; 4(1):48-63
12 Goyal RK, Hirano I. The enteric nervous system. N Engl J Med. 1996 April 25; 334(17):1106-15
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