How Can a Healthy Gut Improve Immunity?
5 min read
Like it or not, kids are going to catch coughs, colds and tummy bugs. It’s common for healthy preschool children to catch at least 6 colds every year and often during the winter months, it feels like they are just recovering from one cold when another one invites itself to the party!
Considering that the immune system isn’t fully developed until age 8 or 9, it’s probably not surprising that childhood is peppered with coughs and colds.
On average there are 100 different cold viruses circulating at any given time.
So in fact, kids are only catching a handful of the bugs out there. While it might feel like a lottery week to week as to whether they will develop a sniffle, snuffle or cough, there are ways we can support their immune system to help ensure it can fight illness.
A healthy balanced diet is always a great starting point – this ensures they get many of the important micronutrients necessary for a healthy immune system.
Vitamins A, C, D, E, B2, B6, and B12, as well as folic acid, iron and zinc are all important for immune health.
Some foods such as breakfast cereal are now fortified with additional vitamins and minerals to help children reach their recommended daily intake. Regular exercise, plenty of sleep and sunshine can also contribute to keeping their immune system charged up and ready for battle.
Recently, research has shown that the gut or intestinal microbiome can also play a key role in immune health. The gut microbiome is basically what we call the trillions of microorganisms that reside in your intestinal tract made up of mainly helpful bacteria.
Generally, a healthy gut has a huge variety of these microbes, and we can encourage that diversity with a varied diet. These little guys have a primary role of helping the body digest nutrients which can then be absorbed. The body then utilizes these nutrients for important things like supporting the immune system.
But that’s not all.
The gut microbiome also helps the gut in maintaining a mucus barrier to foreign particles ingested with food including microorganisms and potentially harmful agents. The intestinal tract is lined with a mucus membrane a little like in your nose and this membrane, when working well, creates a physical barrier for the many nasties that can enter the body.
These friendly bacteria can also control inflammation and without getting too technical, this means they help to strengthen the gut’s barrier function.
There is so much research still to be done about understanding how the gut microbiome develops in children, and how much it changes through the life span, but we do know that adding probiotics to the diet can help beneficial bacteria flourish.
And, if the good guys are happily multiplying, the bad guys can’t cause as much trouble!
The most common bacterium used in probiotics are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium and there are countless studies on their benefits in children and adults.
Some of the key attributes to look for in a good probiotic include a high CFU count (how many live microbes in a dose), the strain of probiotic (not all strains are equal) and that it is shelf stable (doesn’t need to be stored in the fridge).
It’s always helpful to talk to a health care professional for advice on the best probiotics for you or your child and if you have any concerns about your child’s health.
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