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importance of probiotics in childrenIn my opinion, probiotics are one of the most important supplements for both children and adults alike.  In fact, of my favorite four (multi, fish oil, vitamin D, and probiotics), they would almost be top of my priority list.  Probiotics are important for so many reasons, I’ll just touch on a few here.

In our gut is what they call a microbiome.  The microbiome refers to this intricate amazing world that our bodies contain, made up of a gazillion different microbes, all existing in harmony (hopefully).  The microbiome is made up of bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites – and get this, it outnumbers our own human cells ten to one.  Is that amazing, or shocking and a little gross?  Maybe both.  But however we feel about it, a large part of our microbiome resides in our gut and it’s role in our health can’t be ignored.

We want a well-balanced microbiome.  We don’t want yeast to get out of control and take over.  We need those good bacteria to create vitamins such as B12, thiamin and riboflavin.  The microbiome helps to regulate our immune system, and imbalances in the microbiome have been implicated in diabetes, autoimmune disease and many other health issues.  I know in my work with children on the autistic spectrum, one of the very first things I do with them is work on correcting their gut flora – their microbiome – as often that is out of kilter.

If the gut flora is out of whack a number of things can happen.  Two examples in autism that I see frequently are (1) yeast overgrowth, which can lead to almost “drunk” behavior, giggling inappropriately, spaciness and giddiness;  and (2) clostridia (a bacteria) overgrowth, which can lead to aggressive behavior and defiant, sometimes violent behavior.  There can also be implications for digestion such as constipation, diarrhea, gas and bloating.  And as I mentioned before, there are bigger issues such as autoimmune disease and diabetes.

Here’s something else that’s interesting.  You know about serotonin – the brain chemical that we spend millions of dollars per year on anti-depressants trying to increase?  80% of it is produced in the gut.  Yes, at least 80% of serotonin is produced in the gut.  Therefore, healthy serotonin production depends on a healthy microbiome too.  Could it be that our gut flora could help our depression?  From what I’ve seen, the answer is yes.

So how does the gut microbiome get out of whack?

Well, firstly, a child’s microbiome can be influenced by their mother and the state of her microbiome.  Then, the higher rate of C-sections today doesn’t help.  Newborns are colonized with healthy flora from their mother as they pass through the vaginal canal, so if they are born via C-section, they miss that opportunity.  If children receive antibiotics for ear infections and other maladies, this wipes out the healthy bacteria, and a high sugar diet feeds intestinal yeast, which also interrupts the well-balanced microbiome.

The key is to minimize antibiotic use, minimize sugar intake and increase intake of healthy plant-based fruits and vegetables.  Fermented foods such as kefir, kombucha and kimchee also help to promote healthy gut flora.

Probiotic supplementation is another way to fuel a healthy microbiome.  By supplementing with the healthy bacteria that our gut needs, less pathogenic or unhealthy bacteria, yeast and parasites can take a hold.  Healthy probiotics can support a healthy immune response, and a healthy nervous system (the immune system and nervous system both have “branches” in the gut, even though their “head offices” may seem to reside somewhere else).  And of course, probiotics promote healthy digestive function and reduce gas, bloating, constipation and diarrhea.

There are lots of good probiotics on the market, but I have a few favorites.  For itty-bitties, I like the HLC Neonate by Pharmax.  You can just put your finger in it and have your infant suck the powder off your finger, or if they take a bottle you can mix in there too (or you can put it on your nipple so your baby gets it when they nurse).  You just don’t want to put probiotics in anything too warm as it can “cook” them which takes away from their efficacy (they are, after all, ‘live’).  I have also liked Klaire Labs TherBiotic complete – I have used the capsules and simply emptied them into Valentina’s bottle, and once she’s a little older, I’ll use their chewables.  Bio-Botanical Research also have a great liquid that comes in a pump bottle – that’s what I’m using currently, as it’s so easy to add to her milk bottle.  So long as you have a high quality product, sometimes it does come down to the easiest way to get it in to your little one!

I am diligent about two things every single day for Valentina – her probiotics and her vitamin D.  I’m hit and miss with the multivitamin but to me that’s secondary.  Once I really understood how important gut flora is and how that impacts her immune function and neurological function, I was committed to giving her a probiotic every single day!!  The importance of probiotics for children cannot be underestimated so I would encourage you all to give probiotics to your littlies every day!