Written By: Brittani Kolasinski (BHSc Nut, Adv Dip Nut Med)
Gut health is so hot right now, but where did it all begin?
The topic of gut health is very much on trend at the moment, yet still such a recent discovery in the science and health realms. The insights and understanding of our microbiome, which is the large number of microbial cells that live primarily within our colon, is still very recent and gaining more momentum as we are continually highlighting just how important these tiny bacteria cells are in influencing our health from immunity, obesity, brain function, sleep quality and energy.
Our microbiomes are all unique, like a fingerprint. No two are the same. The microbiome will begin at birth, or even prior to this, in utero. The presence of bacteria cells and their by-products are passed through amniotic fluid into the developing child. During the birth, if via vaginal canal, the baby will collect bacteria from within the mother covering it in its entirety and ingesting a lot of it. This will ultimately begin the formation of their microbiome which will continue to multiply and increase in diversity until about age 3 where the microbiome will be as mature and developed as an adult’s.
C-section babies do miss this step in microbiome formation and unfortunately there is a much higher incidence of health complaints observed in C-section babies compared to those delivered naturally. Thankfully now with this information out there many hospitals are now taking a swab from the mothers vaginal canal just prior to her caesarean birth to then cover the baby with afterwards to ensure that it’s getting a part of its own mothers bacteria to ultimately begin its microbiome.
It’s now understood that interactions between gut microbes and the human body have effects on health not only during childhood but also well into their later years, with imbalances in gut flora associated with conditions like inflammatory bowel, obesity, allergies and autoimmune conditions.
The next big influencer of microbiome development is whether the baby is then breast fed or not. Breast feeding impacts on the microbiome by providing a food source for the bacteria to feed on, this is thanks to the oligosaccharides present in the milk. These are prebiotic fibres that aren’t able to be digested by humans and are specifically for the bacteria to ferment and to replicate. Breast milk is also a source of immune boosting molecules further enhancing the baby’s immunity. Breast milk also contains probiotic strains (beneficial bacteria) to further colonise and add to the baby’s own microbiome.
The use of antibiotics during infancy, childhood and beyond can disrupt the microbiome. Antibiotics are designed to eradicate all and any bacteria it comes into contact with and cannot be designed to target only the harmful species whilst sparing the beneficial ones. Antibiotic use has been linked to increased risks of asthma, obesity and other allergic and inflammatory conditions later in life. To safe guard yourself if needing to give antibiotics to your children, always co-prescribe a probiotic. Working with a health professional to select the appropriate range of species at the right dose is highly advised.
Our environments will also alter our microbiome. Living in sterile environments with antibacterial sprays, wipes, and products can be doing more harm than good. We have not just the microbes living within our intestines but also on our skin, in our lungs, and in our reproductive organs. Allowing your kids to explore outside, get in the dirt and put things (within reason) into their mouths can in fact strengthen their immunity, enhance their health and reduce the need for medical intervention later in life. Studies have shown that microbes from the immediate environment can be found within the infant’s own stool sample.
There is still so much to learn about our microbiome but knowing this can allow us to positively influence and establish for our children their own robust and diverse microbiome which will lead to significant health benefits for them later in life. Of course, life happens and in a lot of cases natural births, breast feeding, and avoidance of antibiotics or hospitals are unavoidable. Never the less, there is still some work that can be done, under the guidance of a health professional to assist you and support you and your family through such challenges.
Yours in health,