It has long been realised by nutritional health professionals that the gut microbiome is the centre of health and well-being and that the correct nutrition is the key to keeping it healthy.
We can link the foundation of health back to infancy when the infant microbiome is first being established. The microbial diversity is very changeable and highly influenced in the first 0-3 years of life. The maternal diet during pregnancy can influence the mother’s microbiota making her systemic microbiome healthier, this is vital as the infant needs to inherit the mother’s microbes. This will mainly happen through a natural birth, caesarian born babies should be swabbed with the mother’s microbes to ensure they get what they need. Breast feeding is designed not only to feed the baby but to feed the beneficial bacteria with special milk sugars, and to pass on further healthy microbes.
These microbes are responsible for immune protection, digestion of many of our foods, and production of vital nutrients to keep us and our gut lining healthy including N-butyrate, Vitamin K, Folate and Riboflavin. Our ‘Good’ bacteria signal to the brain via the nervous system in a constant crosstalk which affects our emotions, mental health and sleep.
When a baby or mother is given antibiotics, these can wipe out most of the colony of healthy microbiota. Everything is thrown out of balance; undesirable bacteria may start to crowd out the healthy ones. It is vital to reset the balance. Supplementation with probiotics is vital post treatment, as is a diet high in fibre, low in sugar and low in animal products to restore the healthy beneficial bacteria. Refined carbohydrates and sugars, including concentrated fruit sugars can feed undesirable microbes causing an unhealthy balance in the gut. Health issues that have been connected to gut health in children are: Food Sensitivities, Digestive discomfort, Allergies, Asthma, Eczema, Affects Vaccine responses, ADHD, Excessive weight gain, Slowed brain development. If the child and then teenager’s diet contains low fibre foods, refined sugars and poor-quality protein it will have a further detrimental effect on the microbiome.
Choose foods that feed the good bacteria: Oats and oat milk, brown rice, whole grains, seeds, all fresh vegetables, especially stalky vegetables like broccoli, onions, garlic, leeks, carrots, dark green leafy vegetables. Some fruits are better than others: berries, apples, pears, cherries, and orange and lemon rind. Foods that boost the microbial health are: natural yogurt, kefir, tempeh, fermented foods like kimchi and kombucha. Use natural cleaning products, less anti-bacterial chemicals and choose organic where possible.
As parents we have the initial control over what our children eat, once they start to choose for themselves we can only hope that they have taken on board what we have tried to teach them. Even if they go off the rails in their teenage years, diet can modulate the gut microbes at any stage of life allowing them to reclaim what nature gave them in their first few years.
But it will take work and commitment to create the perfect internal environment.
Look after your microbes and they will look after you.
Sam Bourne is a qualified Nutritional Therapist, Wellbeing Speaker and Author. www.foodspa.org.uk