Amanda Hamilton: 'Good' Bacteria Tips For Each Stage Of Child Development!
It is common to feel overwhelmed by the endless stream of information about children’s health, especially when it comes to being proactive about diet or specialist nutrition. Luckily, when it comes to supplements, there are some straightforward guidelines that lead the way as the age and stage of your child’s development will determine what’s helpful to have to hand.
My career years as a nutritionist have been in parallel to my years as a mother and I believe practical parenting experience is always a helpful filter when dishing out nutritional advice to other parents! So, with that in mind, what are my realistic words of wisdom?
First off, let me discuss 'good' bacteria. Many people associate microbiotics and supplementing with beneficial bacteria but the microbiome - the collective name for microorganisms that live within us - is universal. Microbiotics are just as important for children, some may say more so, than for adults.
Live cultures support digestion and it is within the gut where the beneficial bacteria help create vitamins and neurotransmitters such as serotonin. The gut is also a key part of the immune system. However, to really make a microbiotic supplement work for your child, check the age category first.
The birth process itself is the earliest stage of building the microbiome and as the baby develops, the child’s microbiota plays a vital role in the development of early immunity. The gut, or more specifically the intestinal mucosa, is like the battleground of the body and much research focuses on supporting the body’s natural defence mechanisms to improve conditions that plague many children such as asthma, allergies and autoimmune diseases. There’s not one easy answer but a weak or compromised defence in the gut leads to more vulnerability.
How is a young gut compromised? Overuse of antibiotics (even for good reason), C-section births and / or lack of breastfeeding are factors. I tell you this not to add to the parental guilt (we don’t need any more of that!) but to encourage those who have children that are more vulnerable to know that additional protective microbiotics can be helpful, research indicates that this is so.
Over and above, I’d also suggest encouraging early supplementation of essential omega fats from when breastfeeding stops. The essential fats are a nutritional advantage that many young children struggle consuming, particularly those who turn their noses up to oily fish. I raised my toddlers to take Udo’s Choice off a teaspoon like little baby chicks and they do it still to this day. It’s simply the easiest way to ensure a child consumes the right ratios of the essential omega fats 3, 6 and 9. Given these essential fats are so important for brain health and even help boost concentration, I’d recommend just keep this habit going throughout childhood.
Nursery and early school years
Immunity is the key topic for parents of nursery and school age children. All of a sudden little Jack or Olivia seems to be suffering from snotty nose, coughs and colds, not to mention Slap Cheek (who knew!) - pretty much on a loop.
As our delightful little kids get up, close and personal with each other, they pass viruses more easily, such is life in a classroom. So, once again, boost natural gut health with probiotics and if possible, keep sugar largely out the diet as this is known to negatively impact gut health. From age 5 and upwards, switch to Junior Blend which features specific strains specially chosen for children’s health at this age.
A diet with a diversity and variety of healthy ingredients will pay dividends in the long term too, not just in health terms but to help encourage fussy eaters to experiment more with tastes and flavours in later life.
As a mother of a near-teen I am more aware than ever of the need to build resilience to stress. Exam pressure, social struggles or simply growing up and becoming more independent all place significant demands on young minds. Not forgetting the onslaught of sleepovers that often means midnight feasts and sugar roller coasters are high on the family weekend agenda, whether you like it or not. It’s hard not to feel helpless at times, but, you can ensure your child has some extra support from their gut.
It’s hard to believe that by altering the bacteria in your gut, your child can may handle stress better but research into the fascinating world of the gut-brain connection is showing just that, it’s a field known as psychobiotics.
So, for example, we now know that you can alter your gut bacteria in a way that positively affects your mood and brain function. One way these “mind-altering” live bacteria act is via their ability to produce compounds such as neurotransmitters such as serotonin, the so-called happy hormone - that are secreted within the gut. It is thought that they trigger cells within the gut’s lining to release molecules that signal brain function and affect behaviour.
So, even though microbiotics might not help with the challenge of getting teens to tidy their rooms, if it at least reduces the mood swings, it is worth doing! Sometimes adding the contents from a capsule into a smoothie (that they make themselves) is the best option for teens looking to have more control.
What to ditch:
Tempted to opt for sugary sweetie like supplements? While they can be a source of vitamin D which is a definite plus, they are often laced with artificial sweeteners which are now known to be a microbiota disruption. So, add vitamin D in spray form instead and stick to the supplements that really deliver what your child needs. Sadly, like many things in life, if it is looks too good to be true, it probably is!