When was the last time you paid any attention to your child's digestive health? Chances are, unless they're in pain, tummy troubles are one of those things overlooked as just part of daily life.

Healthy digestion is essential in ensuring proper absorption of nutrients while supporting a healthy immune system. Poor digestion, on the other hand, is associated with a variety of symptoms such as flatulence, bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, abdominal pain and poor appetite, hence it's essential to prioritise good digestive health in order to maintain overall well-being.1

The digestive system requires a proper balance of healthy microbiota2 in order to fulfil its many functions, and the role of prebiotics such as fructooligossacharides (FOS) and galactooligosaccharides (GOS)3 in maintaining digestive health is well documented.1

Duties of the digestive system:


Ensuring proper digestion

The role of the digestive system begins with the breaking down of food and ends with the elimination of waste products through stool. The presence of good bacteria aids in effective mineral absorption4, reducing the growth of harmful bacteria and promoting softer stools for easier bowel movement.3

Maintaining the immune system

The digestive system contains 70% of the body's immune system5 hence keeping it healthy helps keep the immune system healthy too. Studies have also shown that prebiotics and probiotics can promote abdominal health, help to reduce the risk of infections in young children6 and manage the severity of conditions such as atopic dermatitis and inflammatory bowel disease.7

Supporting cognitive development

Proper functioning of the digestive system allows absorption of essential nutrients which children need for healthy growth and development.8 Proper nutrition to support good digestive health therefore has a positive impact on a child's cognitive functions and allows the opportunity for optimal development.9

Good digestion can be noted by a child's regular bowel movement, consistency of stool as found in the Bristol Stool Chart10, and the absence of digestive diseases such as diarrhoea and constipation.11

Parents can help support healthy digestion by ensuring that kids consume enough water and fibre, get sufficient exercise and physical activity1 and consider a formulated milk powder fortified with prebiotics for good abdominal health.

Sources

References:

1Bischoff. BMC Medicine. 'Gut Health': a new objective in medicine?; 9:24 (2011).

2Grenham S, et al. Brain-gut-microbe communication in health and disease. Front Physiol. 2011;2:94.

3Moro G et al. Dosage-related bifidogenic effects of galacto- and fructooligosaccharides in formula-fed term infants. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2002 Mar;34(3):291-5.

4Scholz-Ahrens K et al. Prebiotics, Probiotics, and Synbiotics Affect Mineral Absorption, Bone Mineral Content, and Bone Structure. J. Nutr. March 2007 vol. 137 no. 3 838S-846.

5Vighi G, Marcucci F, Sensi L, Di Cara G, Frati F. Allergy and the gastrointestinal system. Clin Exp Immunol. 2008;153 Suppl 1:3-6.

6Roberfroid M et al. Prebiotic effects: metabolic and health benefits. Br J Nutr 2010 Aug;104 Suppl 2:S1-63.

7Thomas, D and Greer, F. Clinical Report – Probiotics and Prebiotics in Pediatrics. Pediatrics 2010;126;1217.

8Nicholson EK et al. Science. Host-Gut Microbiota Metabolic Interactions; 336: 1262 (2012).

9Prado EL and Dewey KG. Nutr Rev. Nutrition and brain development in early life;72(4):267-84 (2014).

10Lewis SJ, Heaton KW (1997). "Stool form scale as a useful guide to intestinal transit time". Scand. J. Gastroenterol. 32 (9): 920–4.

11Constipation in Children. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC), http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/constipationchild/ Last accessed 21 May 2014.

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