(Excerpt from How to Boost Your Child’s Immune System: What you need to know to strengthen your child’s health and prevent illness)
Optimizing your children’s gut flora is not that difficult, once you know what to avoid and how to replenish and maintain beneficial microbes.
How to Replenish and Maintain Healthy Gut Flora:
It’s important to eat a healthy diet with whole foods that are rich in fiber.
Beneficial microbes (probiotics) thrive on nutrients called prebiotics, which are plentiful in a high-fiber, plant-based diet. Prebiotics are non-digestible food ingredients that help to increase immunity by stimulating the activity of beneficial bacteria. Here are some foods that are exceptionally high in prebiotics:
To optimize your children’s gut flora, you can give them probiotics. Probiotics are the live, beneficial bacteria and other microbes that are needed in the gut to maintain immunity. Probiotics can be given through supplementation or by adding certain fermented foods to the diet.
Fermented foods are fairly easy to make and can be more cost-effective than buying supplements. You can also buy certain non-pasteurized, fermented foods in health foods stores. Non-pasteurized is important since pasteurization heats the product to high temperatures that will kill the good bacteria, cancelling out the probiotic benefits. Fermenting foods also improve digestion by breaking down the food into a more easily digestible form. Fermented foods keep for a long time without losing the nutrients.
Here are some foods that contain probiotics that you can make on your own:
- Yogurt Made from Raw (non-pasteurized) Grass-fed Milk
If you don’t want to make your own yogurt, you can buy whole fat, organic yogurt made from raw, grass-fed milk. Contact your local Weston A. Price Foundation Chapter if you can’t find this in stores. The commercial yogurt you find in most grocery stores is pasteurized and contains sugar. It typically does not contain enough live probiotics.
- Fermented Vegetables
- Pickled foods
- Homemade Sauerkraut
Here are some great resources for learning to make your own fermented foods, purchasing live starter cultures and other equipment:
There are many probiotic supplements on the market that you can buy in health food stores, online, and from health practitioners. Probiotic supplements are considered safe to give to babies and children. They are available in powders, capsules, and liquids.
It’s important that the probiotic supplement you use contains multiple strains and has adequate numbers of colony forming units (CFUs). 10-30 billion CFUs per day are recommended amounts for babies and children. The number of CFUs in a probiotic supplement can vary a lot between brands. Quality is a big issue and many preparations don’t contain the number of viable CFUs claimed on the label. Probiotic supplements need to stay alive during processing and shelf life, and they are sensitive to oxygen, moisture and heat. Most probiotic supplements should be kept refrigerated. They must also survive stomach acid and digestion in order to colonize in the digestive tract and remain viable to do what they need to do.
Here are a few recommended probiotics:
What to Avoid:
Processed Foods and Sugar
Bad bacteria thrive on sugar and starches, and there’s a lot of starch and added sugar in processed food.
Antibiotics do not discriminate; they will kill both the good and the bad bacteria and disrupt the balance of gut flora. Babies given antibiotics in their first year tend to have higher rates of asthma, and children who take frequent rounds of antibiotics are prone to further infections. Using antibiotics for minor infections is unnecessary and can create more frequent infections. But there are some bacterial infections that can be serious and require antibiotics. If you must use antibiotics, be sure to replace the beneficial bacteria by giving your child probiotics or fermented foods.
Antibacterial Soaps, Cleansers, Hand Sanitizers and Wipes
If you use these products frequently, you may be destroying the good with the bad. The skin is loaded with good bacteria necessary to immunity, and using antibacterial wipes and sanitizers could inadvertently disrupt the development of immunity by depleting the good bugs. Additionally, using antibacterial household products might lead to strains of bacteria resistant to antibiotics. This means more powerful bugs that antibiotics are no longer able to deal with.
Products that can be infused with antibacterial chemicals include furniture, mattresses, toys, plastic kitchen tools, cutting boards, highchairs, and bedding. None of this is necessary and could be harmful to health.
There’s no evidence that antibacterial products provide any health benefits. They have no effect on viruses such as cold or flu, and there’s no evidence that using antibacterial soaps or wipes are any better than simply washing hands with normal soap and water.
Two chlorinated antimicrobials – Triclosan and Triclocarban – are the most commonly used, and are associated with endocrine, thyroid, and reproductive changes. These chemicals are absorbed into the body, and also washed down the drain, into lakes, rivers and water supplies.
Dr. Stuart B. Levy, of the Tufts University School of Medicine, warns about antibacterial household products:
“The recent entry of products containing antibacterial agents into healthy households has escalated from a few dozen products in the mid-1990s to more than 700 today. Antibacterial products were developed and have been successfully used to prevent transmission of disease-causing microorganisms among patients, particularly in hospitals. They are now being added to products used in healthy households, even though an added health benefit has not been demonstrated. Scientists are concerned that the antibacterial agents will select bacteria resistant to them and cross-resistant to antibiotics. Moreover, if they alter a person’s microflora, they may negatively affect the normal maturation of the T helper cell response of the immune system to commensal flora antigens; this change could lead to a greater chance of allergies in children. As with antibiotics, prudent use of these products is urged. Their designated purpose is to protect vulnerable patients.”
You don’t have to try to kill the germs, just wash them away with nontoxic soap and water. This is the best way to prevent exposure while keeping your children’s environment healthy.