[thrive: To grow or develop successfully. To flourish or succeed to one’s full potential.]
THE BEST GIFT
If there was one single gift you could give your child that would make the biggest impact on their long term health and ability to thrive, it would certainly be the gift of a healthy gut. Gut health truly is everything! The gut is responsible for the absorption and assimilation of our food and food is information that tells our cells how to express themselves. The gut also houses more than 75% of our immune system, so gut health is essential to overall health.
The gut microbiome is a hollow tube beginning at the mouth and ending at the anus. It’s a mucosal surface, much like the inside of the nose, that protects the gut lining. It runs through the entire GI tract and houses the trillions of bacteria in the gut.
There are two factors that determine a healthy gut: the gut barrier (integrity of the intestinal tract) and intestinal microbiota (gut flora). The function of the gut barrier is to allow nutrients to enter the body and, just as important, prevents harmful foreign substances from crossing into the body. The human gut contains an incredible 100 trillion microorganisms. In fact, there are 10 times more bacteria in the human body than our own cells!1 So, it would be true to say that we are more bacteria than we are human!
The gut is intimately connected to the brain. Almost all of the neurotransmitters are made in the gut. Approximately 90% of serotonin, the feel-good hormone (stay relaxed, calm, avoid depression, become more resilient, manage stress/anxiety, etc.) is made in the gut.2 Serotonin is the precursor to melatonin, the sleep hormone. Dopamine is the reward and motivation neurotransmitter. It’s what gets us going and keeps us on task, helps us stay organized, and assists in all executive functioning. Nearly 50% of dopamine is produced in the gut.3 The importance of gut health simply cannot be overstated. If you only do one thing to make the biggest impact on improving your child’s health, work on the gut.
The mama/baby dyad is a powerful connection. Traditional Chinese Medicine [TCM] doesn’t separate the mother from the child, they’re intertwined. The health of the mother is the health of the child so maternal and child care is one. Modern science and research continues to confirm this ancient wisdom as we now know that the mother’s microbiome passes through the placenta and establishes the child’s microbiome.4 The microbiome the child inherits plays a critical role in determining which genes are or aren’t expressed - something called epigenetics, the study of how environment impacts genetic expression.
THE FIRST 1000 DAYS
After the first year of life, the infant gut microbiome achieves a more complex structure, and it becomes similar to that of adults by age three.3 The gut microbiome is responsible for properly assimilating nutrients, educating the naive immune system, and programming the metabolic system.
A 2012 study found that one particular strain of beneficial bacteria, Lactobacillus rhamnosus helped maintain a vaginal microbiome free of pathogenic microorganisms (including Candida albicans) and helped maintain a low vaginal pH.5 Lactobacillus rhamnosus has also been shown in clinical trials to reduce the risk of allergies in children by as much as 50% when taken during the last trimester and early breastfeeding.6
Probiotic supplementation of the mother during and after pregnancy has been shown to alter the infant's microbiome. Randomized trials provide evidence that L. rhamnosus given during and after pregnancy can colonize the intestine of vaginally delivered, breastfed infants until 1–2 years of life and can increase the abundance of Bifidobacterium spp. in the infant gut.3 Administration of Lactobacillus reuteri to both mothers in late gestation and to infants throughout the first year of life decreased the infants' levels of IgE antibodies to food allergens at 2 years of age.7
NUTRITION FOR A HEALTHY GUT
So much can be accomplished in restoring and maintaining good gut health just through diet and nutrition adjustments. Here are my top tips:
- Eat a nutrient-dense, whole food/real food diet.
- Aim for macronutrient balance (high-quality protein + whole food carbohydrates + healthy fats) in every meal.
- Eat and drink probiotic foods and beverages regularly, in addition to taking probiotic supplements.
- Eat a variety of phytonutrients from plant food - all the colors of the rainbow. The fiber in vegetables is a prebiotic (feeds the beneficial bacteria of the gut) to help create a diverse and healthy gut.
- Eat organic/non-GMO (glyphosate-free) because glyphosate wrecks havoc on the gut microbiome.
- Respect the tiny, still-developing digestive system of your infant. Babies have limited enzyme production, which is necessary for the digestion of foods. It takes up to 28 months, just around the time when molar teeth are fully developed for the big-gun carbohydrate enzymes (namely amylase) to fully kick into gear. Foods like cereals, grains, and breads are very challenging for little ones to digest.
1 Clemente, J., Ursell, L., Wegener Parfrey, L., Knight, R. (2012). The impact of the Gut Microbiota on Human Health: An Integrative View. Cell, 148(6), 1258-1270.
2 Yano, Jessica M. and Yu, Kristie and Donaldson, Gregory P. and Shastri, Gauri G. and Ann, Phoebe and Ma, Liang and Nagler, Cathryn R. and Ismagilov, Rustem F. and Mazmanian, Sarkis K. and Hsiao, Elaine Y. (2015) Indigenous Bacteria from the Gut Microbiota Regulate Host Serotonin Biosynthesis. Cell, 161 (2). pp. 264-276.
3 Eisenhofer G, Aneman A, Friberg P, Hooper D, Fåndriks L, Lonroth H, Hunyady B, Mezey E. Substantial production of dopamine in the human gastrointestinal tract. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Volume 82, Issue 11, 1 November 1997, Pages 3864–3871.
4 Mueller, Noel, Bakacs, Elizabeth, Combellick, Joan, Grigoryan, Zoya, and Dominguez-Bello, Maria. The infant microbiome development: mom matters. Trends Mol Med, 2015 Feb; 21(2): 109-117.
5 Stojanovic N, et al. Normal vaginal flora, disorders and application of probiotics in pregnancy. Arch Gynecol Obstet. 2012;286:325–332.
6 Barthow C., Wickens K., Stanley T. The Probiotics in Pregnancy Study (PIP Study): rationale and design of a double-blind randomised controlled trial to improve maternal health during pregnancy and prevent infant eczema and allergy. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth. 2016;16:133.
7 Abrahamsson TR, et al. Probiotics in prevention of IgE-associated eczema: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2007;119:1174–1180.
Andrea Laine White, MNT Bio Andrea White is a Functional Nutrition Therapist with a clinical practice in Castle Rock, CO. Additionally, she is the in-house nutritionist and Chief Marketing Officer for http://www.babyfreshorganics.co. Follow @nutritionmovement.