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Gut Health for Kids

Posted by Brad Dennis, Ph.D. on

Gut Health for Kids

All too often, we don’t really think about our own gut health, let alone the gut health of our kids – and that’s a shame, because while gut health is of course important for everyone, an argument can be made that ensuring good gut health is even more important during childhood. Let’s take a look at why making sure our kids have a strong, healthy gut is so important.

Development of the Gut Microbiome

Gut microbiome development in children begins from the moment of birth, but even before birth, a child’s health and development is affected by gut health – in this case, the mother’s. A study published in The Lancet found that the composition of the mother’s gut microbiome is connected to their baby’s brain development and behavior even up to the age of two. In addition, the mother’s microbiome is instrumental in helping their baby’s own gut microbiome begin its development, and a study published in Trends in Microbiology found that children’s microbiomes are very susceptible to being changed by their environment and their families’ lifestyles.

What’s more, science once thought that the development of the gut microbiome was complete by age 3, but new research is demonstrating that while our bodies achieve an adult-like diversity of gut microbiota between the ages of 3 and 5, the microbiome in the gut continues to undergo additional changes and transitions during childhood – and even into our early 20s.

The Gut’s Effect on Children’s Health

How important is good gut health for kids? What affect does a child’s gut have on their overall health? It should come as no surprise that the answer is that gut health is just as important for children as it is for adults.

The bacteria in a child’s gut is instrumental in training the immune system properly and in its early functioning, which sets them up for better overall health during childhood. A healthy gut is also key to ensuring the absorption of nutrients kids need for their growing bodies.

Poor gut health in kids has been linked to such maladies as allergies, asthma, and even to mental health issues such as difficulties in concentrating and focusing, and illnesses like depression.

How Can I Help My Kid Develop a Healthy Gut?

There are some things we can’t control when it comes to our children’s guts – genetics and environment (many have little to no control over where they live), for example. And while we know certain medications, particularly antibiotics, can adversely affect the gut, when we (or our children) are sick and antibiotics can help, we should take them.

Given that, the one thing we can do to help our kids have a healthy gut is by what we choose to feed them. Diet is one of the most powerful ways we can shape the gut microbiome – even countering the ill effects of those things we can’t control!

Start early with giving your kids water to drink. Avoid making sugary drinks like flavored waters and sodas a regular occurrence. The earlier you can get your kids to want and enjoy water, the better.

When it comes to food, encourage adventurous eating! Kids can be incredibly picky eaters, so it’s important to do everything we can to get them to try new foods, and to help them find healthy foods they like. Maybe your kid hates peas, but loves green beans. Or maybe they like apples but hate oranges. If you send lunch and/or snacks to school with them, provide healthy options and small size sweets (such as one mini chocolate instead of a full-size bar).

Yes, part of the fun of childhood is having cakes and cookies and sweets, but if we can help our kids find healthy foods they like and enjoy, we may find them instinctively making healthier choices when it comes to what they choose to eat and drink (at least part of the time!).

The science is clear: good gut health begins before birth, and if we want our guts to be healthy as adults, we need to create the foundation for that in childhood. For many of us, it’s too late to set that foundation and we have to play catch-up as it were to get our guts back to a healthy balance. But it’s not too late for our kids! We can give them the strong foundation that we lacked, one that will help their guts stay healthy all throughout their lives.

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