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The gut microbiota - A key foundation for child health

Within children’s tiny bodies is a world full of microorganisms. This world is known as the gut microbiota, and it plays a crucial role in children's health. The gut microbiota refers to the trillions of microbes, such as bacteria, that live in the human gut. Fostering the development of a child’s gut microbiota during the first 1,000 days of life is critical for their long-term health and well-being.

A journal in the National Library of Medicine shares: “During early childhood, the immune system is still developing, and the gut microbiota is highly malleable. The establishment of a robust and diverse gut microbiota during infancy is critical for immune system maturation and overall health.”

The colonization of the gut, when microbes, including good bacteria, colonize the child’s intestine, is a critical event in a child’s life and sets the stage for the adult microbiota. A healthy immune system, nutrient absorption, and neurological development are all built during this early microbial colonization.

Imbalances or disruptions during this period may lead to allergies, obesity, and other health problems later on. Therefore, it's important to foster children’s long-term health by providing a nurturing environment, breastfeeding (if possible), eating a variety of foods, and minimizing the use of antibiotics.

Microbial colonization is influenced by perinatal factors such as mode of delivery, diet, and genetics. Once established, the gut microbiota composition remains relatively stable throughout adult life. However, it can be altered by bacterial infections, antibiotic treatment, lifestyle, surgery, and long-term changes in diet.

What came first – the chicken or the egg?

Until recently, it was believed that babies received their first dose of good bacteria from their mothers as they passed through the birth canal. However, new evidence suggests that babies are exposed to bacteria even before birth and “the human intestinal microbiota is actually seeded before birth.”

As another journal in the National Library of Medicine explains, “Maternal microbiota forms the first microbial inoculum, and from birth, the microbial diversity increases and converges toward an adult-like microbiota by the end of the first 3–5 years of life.”

Microbiota and the importance of diet

Diet plays an important role in promoting microbial diversity in children and adults. Fiber, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fermented foods provide a wide range of nutrients that nourish and support beneficial gut bacteria.

A diverse gut microbiota promotes immune function and nutrient absorption and reduces the risk of certain health conditions. Children can cultivate a thriving ecosystem of microbes inside their bodies by eating a varied and nutrient-dense diet.

Microbial balance through probiotics

The importance of maintaining a healthy gut microbiota continues into adolescence, especially during this time of rapid physical and hormonal change. In addition to a varied diet, the introduction of good bacteria through probiotics is an excellent way to promote a healthy microbial balance in children.*

Probiotics are live microorganisms that, when consumed in adequate amounts, can provide health benefits by supporting the growth of beneficial bacteria in the body. Adding probiotics to a child's diet can have a wide range of health benefits, including supporting immune function and digestion, as well as reducing the risk of respiratory and skin issues.*

While probiotics offer many health benefits for both children and adults, their effectiveness varies depending on the strain. Choosing the right probiotic strain depends on the specific health goal, as different strains affect the body differently.

To learn more about probiotics and the importance of strain specificity, be sure to watch our video “What are probiotics?” or read the article of the same name here in our Learning Lab.

You can also find many more articles and videos on children’s health here.

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