We are used to thinking of bugs as being a problem; we wash our hands to clean off the bugs, we avoid sick people so we don’t catch their bugs, but now there are nutritional supplements that are recommended for good health and it involves taking capsules or tablets full of…you guessed it, bugs!
In the intestines there are approximately 100 trillion micro-organisms (that’s 11 zeros!) some are good, some are neutral and some are just plain bad. The good bugs are called probiotics. As well as keeping some of the bad bugs in check, they do many essential and helpful jobs for us. For example they produce certain nutrients for us and help with the breakdown and absorption of foods.
Probiotics also play an important role in healthy immune function. By ‘talking’ to the immune system in our gut, probiotics assist our immune cells to mount a healthy response to invading viruses, fungi and bacteria and to not ‘over-react’ to certain foods.
New research shows that we may receive our first probiotics in the womb but the majority of that first inoculation is received during birth. The growth of these fledgling probiotic populations is then promoted by specialised carbohydrates, or prebiotics, that are contained in breast milk.
Colonization can be compromised though – babies who are born by caesarean section or who are formula fed may miss out on these important microbes. Research suggests that babies born by c-section or those that are formula fed receive a different collection of microflora and that this difference could be a contributing factor towards common childhood conditions such as eczema, constipation and lowered immunity.
Another reason for disordered gut flora in children and adults is the use of antibiotics. Although often very necessary, antibiotic therapy, can be non-specific, eradicating both the bad and good bugs in the gut. This means that less beneficial bacteria are available to take the balance of power. For this reason, antibiotics have been known to cause acute digestive disturbances and may also, with longer term use, contribute to the development of food intolerances.
These factors, along with a low fibre, fussy diet, which essentially starves the good bugs, may reduce the numbers of our probiotic friends.
Supplementing your child’s diet with a good quality probiotic is a great way to ensure they receive their daily dose of these friendly little bugs. Research shows that supplemental probiotics make positive changes to the microflora of the gut and do have beneficial actions both for the gut and the whole body. Include them as part of an everyday, balanced and healthy diet that incorporates plenty of fibre to promote probiotic growth and colonisation. Trust your gut and foster healthy immune systems and happy little tummies!
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