Your child's gut does much more than just takes care of digestion and absorption of nutrients - it helps in his total well-being by fulfilling 3 "hero missions". Read on to find out what these hero missions are and how the "tummy soldiers" or the healthy gut microbiotas are an important player in maintaining a healthy gut.
Every time your child smiles or points at something, we bet you end up wondering what is going on in his brain. It is easy to be fascinated by the idea of the millions of connections his brain is making every nanosecond and wonder how that all translates into learning and knowledge for him.
Did you know that your child’s gut, or what we sometimes call tummy, is an equally fascinating terrain?
We know that all mums are concerned about their children's gut health, but mainly only so far as to prevent "tummy troubles". However, mums, you need to know that your child's gut, which is the gastrointestinal tract from the mouth, stomach, small and large intestines to anus, needs your constant care and attention. The gut does much more than to digest and absorb nutrients for growth. It also helps protect your child from infection and works with the brain to keep him happy. A healthy gut is, in fact crucial to your child’s overall health and well-being1.
Meet your child's tummy soldiers a.k.a. healthy gut microbiotas
The gut is home to trillions of micro-organisms that are collectively called the gut microbiotas. Scientists have discovered that a healthy gut microbiota with plenty of good bacteria helps the gut in many ways1, 2. These 'tummy soldiers' help improve your little one's total well-being by supporting the gut in its 3 hero missions: support brain and physical development through digestion, modulate mood and build natural defences.
Mission #1 Support brain and physical development
For optimum growth and development, your child's brain and body need the right nutrients, in the right amounts and at the right stage of growth.
The gut performs the complicated task of digesting the food consumed into basic components and ensuring that key nutrients such as DHA and ARA to support brain development, and vitamins & minerals to support physical growth are absorbed properly and are ready to be used by the body.
Your child's tummy soldiers support this process further by breaking down certain complex food that his stomach and small intestines have difficulties to do so. They also help in the production of essential vitamins like Vitamin B and Vitamin K to assist in the critical blood clotting process.
Mission #2 Modulate mood for day-to-day well-being
Hunger makes us all cranky, and a filled stomach makes us calm – ever wonder why? This is because the gut has a big impact on mood.
With over 100 million neurons in the gut3, there is an ever present two-way communication taking place between it and the brain. While the gut sends the brain messages about the child’s appetite, poor emotional health (messages from his brain) can lead to poor gut functioning.
Now imagine, if the tummy soldiers guarding this "second brain" were compromised by poor gut health, the signals being sent to the brain through the gut's nerve connections would be all scrambled and could negatively impact the mood and the overall well-being of your child.
Also, did you know that 90% of our body's serotonin – the "feel good" hormone that enables brain cells and nervous system cells to communicate with each other and helps your child to feel comfortable and well, and promotes better sleep – is produced in the gut4?
If your child is comfortable and well-rested, it will positively impact his total well-being and enable him to be a happier child.
Mission #3 Help build natural defences against infections and manage allergies
Children's immune systems are immature compared to healthy adults, making them susceptible to the impact of harmful infection-causing bacteria.
However, a healthy gut and its tummy soldiers can help keep these bad bacteria at bay. The gut is home to 70% of immune cells in the body5 and it is no wonder a healthy gut is important for day-to-day natural defences. To support these immune cells at doing what they do best, the tummy soldiers help in two ways:
1. Crowding out the germs: The healthy gut microbiotas form a layer covering the wall of the gut, and this extra layer acts as a barrier against infection-causing germs by leaving no space on the gut wall for them to grow.
2. Supporting the immune system: The healthy gut microbiotas support the development of immune system so that it will not react in a hyperactive manner against safe substances and thus helps to manage allergies5,6.
So you need to ensure that these tummy soldiers are well-trained, well-nourished and ready to serve their 3 critical missions to support the overall health and well-being of your child.
1 Bischoff S. Gut Health: A new objective in medicine? BMC Med. 2011; 9:24
2 Gerritsen J, Smidt H, Rijkers GT,de Vos WM. Intestinal microbiota in human health and disease: the impact of probiotics. Genes Nutr. Aug 2011; 6(3): 209-240
3 Goyal RK, Hirano I. The enteric nervous system. N Engl J Med. 1996 April 25; 334(17):1106-15
4 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
5 Furness 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
6 Martin R, Nauta AJ, Amor KB, Knippels LMJ, Knol J, Garssen J. Early Life: gut microbiota and immune development in infancy. Beneficial Microbes. 2010;1(4): 367-382
7 Arslanoglu et al. 2008. Journal of Nutrition, 138:1091-1095.