Three ways to boost a child’s gut health

Here’s how to pro­mote healthy gut bac­te­ria in chil­dren that could last them a life­time

Coventry Telegraph - - FAMILY HEALTH -

Mi­cro­biome changes through­out life and is most mal­leable dur­ing early child­hood... Doc­tor Rachael Buck

MOST par­ents know that feed­ing chil­dren a good, bal­anced diet is vi­tal for their health and devel­op­ment. But what’s less well-known is that a key rea­son for en­sur­ing good nu­tri­tion early in life is to nur­ture chil­dren’s mi­cro­biome – the tril­lions of bac­te­ria that live on and in us, but mainly in the gas­troin­testi­nal tract.

The mi­cro­biome helps con­trol the im­mune sys­tem, and thus how well chil­dren fight off in­fec­tions and whether they de­velop al­ler­gies, as well as reg­u­lat­ing the me­tab­o­lism and even in­flu­enc­ing mood. It also plays a huge role in a healthy di­ges­tive sys­tem, which helps con­trol weight, sleep and much more.

Largely a prod­uct of lifestyle and the en­vi­ron­ment, the mi­cro­biome changes through­out life and is most mal­leable dur­ing early child­hood.

Doc­tor Rachael Buck, lead re­search sci­en­tist and gut health ex­pert at health­care com­pany Ab­bott, shares three ways to pro­mote a healthy mi­cro­biome in both preg­nant women and chil­dren, giv­ing them a strong foun­da­tion for a healthy gut for the rest of their lives.

1 DUR­ING PREG­NANCY

EMERG­ING re­search shows a mother’s gut bac­te­ria un­dergo nat­u­ral changes as preg­nancy pro­gresses. These changes in the mi­cro­biome pro­mote en­ergy stor­age in fat tis­sue and help sup­port the growth of the foe­tus.

A healthy diet isn’t only good for mum and her mi­cro­biome, it’s good for her grow­ing baby too. So, if preg­nancy crav­ings have you reach­ing for sweets or the bis­cuit tin, opt for some­thing health­ier in­stead.

Try to stick to a var­ied diet with plenty of fi­bre-packed foods such as fruit, veg­eta­bles, whole grains and legumes, and pro­bi­otic-rich foods like yo­ghurt and sauerkraut.

If you’re feel­ing more ad­ven­tur­ous, ke­fir (a fer­mented milk drink) and kim­chi (salted and fer­mented veg­eta­bles) are also good choices and are now widely avail­able in su­per­mar­kets.

2 BABY’S FIRST 24 HOURS

HOW and where a baby’s born, as well as ev­ery sur­face touched in the first 24 hours of life, af­fects baby’s mi­cro­biome, and these early ex­pe­ri­ences can im­pact its health well into the fu­ture.

From the mo­ment it’s born, a baby’s body is colonised by tril­lions of mi­crobes given to it by its mother dur­ing birth, from her gut and skin and via what baby eats, whether that’s breast milk, for­mula or both.

Skin-to-skin con­tact soon after birth pro­motes nurs­ing and helps es­tab­lish milk sup­ply, and breast milk it­self helps to build a healthy gut too.

Com­po­nents such as hu­man milk oligosac­cha­rides (HMOs), a spe­cial type of pre­bi­otic and the most abun­dant in­gre­di­ent in breast milk after fat and car­bo­hy­drate (lac­tose), help to feed and mul­ti­ply healthy gut bac­te­ria and work to sup­port a baby’s de­vel­op­ing im­mune sys­tem.

Dr Buck says: “Breast­feed­ing is best for ba­bies and is rec­om­mended for as long as pos­si­ble dur­ing in­fancy, as it pro­vides many ben­e­fits to both mother and baby. It’s dif­fi­cult to re­verse the de­ci­sion not to breast­feed.”

Speak to a health vis­i­tor, mid­wife or doc­tor for ad­vice on how to feed your baby.

3 EARLY YEARS

NEW­BORNS and young in­fants start with a lim­ited num­ber of mi­crobes. How­ever, as ba­bies come into con­tact with more peo­ple and new en­vi­ron­ments, they ac­quire ad­di­tional types, and the com­po­si­tion of their mi­cro­biome be­gins to change and be­come more dis­tinct. The types of solid food chil­dren are in­tro­duced to can also play a big part in the make-up of their mi­cro­biome.

Dr Buck says the tod­dler years are an ideal time to op­ti­mise a child’s gut health through diet be­cause then the mi­cro­biome stays fairly sim­i­lar through­out his or her life­time.

After in­tro­duc­ing solid foods – one at a time – to a tod­dler, of­fer a va­ri­ety of nu­tri­tious foods in­clud­ing eggs, legumes like len­tils, beans, and peas, and fruit. Starchy veg­eta­bles like sweet pota­toes and parsnips, whole grains like oats, rice and bar­ley, and pro­bi­otic-rich gut foods like yo­ghurt are also good choices.

Early feed­ing choices can have ben­e­fits on a child’s di­ges­tive health going for­ward

Breast feed­ing and a var­ied diet, in­clud­ing pro-bi­otic-rich foods like yo­ghurt, help build up gut health

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