The gut is your child's "second headquarters" and is in constant communication with the brain. This helps support your child's total well-being and development. Read on to find out more.
Who here has dealt with a cranky child?
The answer I guess is, everyone. It is perhaps one of the most frustrating moments of parenthood: dealing with a crying child, especially when there is no apparent reason for distress.
We can soothe them quite easily if they are wet or have soiled themselves. Unfortunately, understanding their discomfort takes longer. To help our children feel better, we need to kiss them, cuddle them and take a closer look at their gut health.
Distress in the gut may trigger an emotional reaction from the brain.
Confused? Hang on, let us explain.
There is no doubt that the brain is the central command system of the body and has the primary responsibility of our child’s learning and cognitive development.
Therefore all the attention we give to the development of our little ones’ brains, especially in the early days, is completely understandable.
However, did you know that our children’s bodies (and ours too!) have a “second headquarters” that we often ignore?
This second headquarters is the gut, which is the gastrointestinal tract starting from your mouth, stomach, small and large intestines, finally ending at the anus. Our child’s gut needs as much attention in the early stages of his growth, as the brain. This is because the gut supports brain development both directly and indirectly, while also impacting the total well-being of our child.
Gut talks to the brain about well-being
We don’t realize it but the gut and the brain have a powerful two-way communication going on between them1,2.
- Top-down from the brain to the gut: The brain communicates emotions to the gut which can influence its functioning.
- Bottom-up from the gut to the brain: The gut sends messages to the brain about the child’s sleep and appetite.
Two things make this communication possible.
First is the presence of 100 million neurons3 along the gut, thus forming a nervous system, which is in constant communication with the brain. Second is the fact that 90% of our body’s serotonin – the “feel good” hormone that enables brain cells and nervous system cells to communicate with each other is secreted in the gut4.
Serotonin has many functions, and the serotonin secreted in the gut is primarily responsible for regulating the bowel movement.
When it comes to our child’s well-being – if the bowel movements are regular then it can influence his comfort and well-being, promote better sleep, which together help his day-to-day mood and prepare him to engage with the world.
Also, when the gut is healthy with plenty of good bacteria, there are increased levels of serotonin, which means that the brain can receive more signals of well-being.
On the other hand, poor gut health means that the brain can receive messages of distress from it. This triggers alarm signals in the brain, which can manifest as irritability and crying2,5.
Remember, a child feeling comfortable from within would be more ready and receptive to the stimuli around him.
Gut helps supply the brain's building blocks
For optimum growth and development, our child’s brain needs the right building blocks which come in the form of nutrients such as DHA and ARA. These nutrients are needed by the brain in the right amounts at each stage of the child’s growth.
Almost all nutrients that are needed by the brain (and other parts of the body) are processed by the gut, which performs the complicated task of breaking down food consumed into basic components and ensuring their proper absorption.
The gut also helps our child further, by producing some essential vitamins that help in the absorption of important minerals6,7,8.
If the gut is unhealthy, it will hamper both these processes, i.e. it will prevent the absorption of essential nutrients needed for brain development and secondly it will also impact the communication of messages regarding satiety, health and comfort to the brain, hampering the child’s sense of well-being.
A healthy gut is absolutely essential for the total well-being of your child. It is therefore important to nurture a healthy gut in your child from the very beginning.
1 Keunen K, van Elburg RM, van Bel F, Banders MJNL. Impact of nutrition on brain development and its neuroprotective implications following preterm birth. Pediatr Res. 2015 Jan;77(1-2):148-155.
2 Lyte M. Microbial endocrinology in the microbiome-gut-brain axis: How bacterial production and utilization of neurochemicals influence behaviour. PLoS Pathog. Nov 2013; 9(11): e100372
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 Borre Y, O’Keefe GW, Clarke G, et al. Microbiota and neurodevelopmental windows: implications for brain disorders. Trends in Molecular Medicine. 2014;20:509–18.
6 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
7 Wopereis 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.
8 Scholtens, P, et al. The Early Settlers: Intestinal Microbiology in Early Life. Ann Rev Food Sci Technol. 2012;3:21.1–21.23.