Even though your kids may act like wild animals at times, you may be surprised to learn that they are actually less human than you think. In fact, we all are; with a 10 to 1 ratio of bacterial to human cells in our body, we are really 90% bacteria!
If that thought sends a shiver up your spine, don’t worry—most of the microorganisms living in and on our body are beneficial bacteria that provide a variety of life-supporting functions crucial for our health. We all depend on our mighty microbes to keep us feeling our best, but they are especially important for kids’ growing and developing brains and bodies.
Why Do Kids Need Friendly Flora?
Most of the good bacteria—the probiotics—in your child’s body live in their gut, where they interact with their human cells to facilitate a variety of important bodily processes, including:
- Regulating the immune system
Probiotics have a profound impact on immune system function1. By crowding out and attacking inhospitable bacteria that can otherwise sneak in and make your kids feel under the weather, the good guy microbes act as an army of health guards that outcompete unwanted invaders. Good bacteria also work to keep the immune response in equilibrium because immune balance is key—overstimulation of the immune system can result in abnormal reactions and suppressed immune function can also lead to health issues.
- Optimizing digestion
Beneficial bacteria produce enzymes and short-chain fatty acids that help to break down the foods your children eat and improve nutrient absorption. Why is this important? No matter how many healthy foods you provide at meal and snack times, if your kids aren’t able to fully digest and absorb the nutrients from those foods, they can’t reap the benefits. Studies show that healthy populations of gut microbes lead to improved nutrient absorption, denser bones, and more muscle growth2.
- Keeping emotions in check
As parents, we know how emotional kids can be, and how quickly their feelings can change from moment to moment. The good news is that probiotics work to regulate their feelings and keep them in (relative) balance. Good microbes produce many important brain chemicals that affect your kids’ emotions, like calming GABA3 and serotonin4, the “happy” chemical. Probiotics can even reduce levels of cortisol, a hormone that spikes during stressful situations4.
And that’s not all! Friendly flora also produce B-vitamins, reduce temporary inflammation, balance blood sugar, promote dental health, increase energy, and improve sleep—and scientists are discovering more and more benefits every day. It’s clear that children need good bugs to grow and develop properly and achieve excellent health, so how can we keep their bacteria thriving?
Importance of a Balanced Microbiome
The microbiome is the vast ecosystem of all of the good and bad guy bacteria living in and on our body. A balanced microbiome consists of about 85% beneficial bacteria and only 15% of the bad guys. In this ideal scenario, the good guys are always in control of the majority, which is imperative for them to be able to fully support our health.
However, if the good bacteria begin to decline, and the bad guys start to take over, we can get trapped in a downward spiral of health issues.
Unfortunately, keeping your child’s microbiome safe and balanced isn’t always as easy at it sounds, and the truth is that it can be downright difficult in our modern culture. Things like processed, sugary foods, antibiotics both in food and as medicine, antibacterial cleaners, chlorine in our water, and even overzealous hygiene habits can deplete their good microbes and open the door to a serious microbiome imbalance.
5 Ways to Keep the Good Bugs Safe
The good news is that you can take these five simple steps to keep your kid’s good bacteria safe from probiotic antagonists:
- Provide plenty of probiotics. Your kids need a consistent source of probiotics to keep their microbiomes healthy, safe, and strong. For infants, breastfeeding (exclusively until six months) is the best source of beneficial microbes. For toddlers and up, a high-quality probiotic formula like Hyperbiotics PRO-Kids will ensure that they are getting a steady infusion of good bacteria into their little guts. Hyperbiotics formulas include multiple strains for broad spectrum support, and a patented delivery method that transports bacteria alive in a timed-release tiny (and easy to swallow) pearl. For dental, ear, and upper respiratory health, combine PRO-Kids with chewable PRO-Kids ENT for whole body support.
- Avoid unnecessary antibiotics whenever possible. Antibiotics can be important weapons against severe bacterial infections, but they don’t discriminate between good and harmful bacteria when they mount their assaults, wiping out beneficial microbes along they way. Studies even show that one course of antibiotics can disrupt our gut microbiome for an entire year, so stay away from antibiotics in food and any unnecessary prescriptions5.
- Focus on probiotic-friendly foods. Processed foods, pesticides, artificial sugars, emulsifiers, and GMOs can all deplete your kids’ good bacteria6, so concentrate on providing plenty of organic, plant-based whole foods and make sure to include prebiotics—fibers that are food for the good guy microbes. Good prebiotic sources include bananas, apples, and asparagus. Fermented foods and drinks like sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, and kombucha also pack a fantastic probiotic punch.
- Keep kids active! Studies show that active people (both adults and kids alike) have more diverse, balanced gut microbiomes than people who are sedentary7. And remember, a healthy gut microbiome equals tons of good bacteria, so limit the video games and encourage lots of active, playful fun!
- Embrace the dirt. Today’s society applauds cleanliness but in reality, antibacterial soaps, cleaners, and sanitizers are slowly destroying our microbiomes. You see, antibacterial cleaners are designed to kill all microbes, both good and bad, and we need all kinds of bacteria to train our immune systems. So, each time you slather your child’s body in antibacterial soap, you are killing the bacteria that they need to stay healthy. Keep the good guy microbes safe by sticking to simple, natural soap and water and encourage plenty of outdoor (and yes, dirty) playtime.
As parents, we work so hard to keep our children safe each and every day. Now that we know the importance of the microbiome to our kids’ well-being and happiness, we can do everything in our power to nurture and protect the good microbes that are such an integral part of their vibrant health.
- Houghteling, P. D., & Walker, W. A. (2015). From Birth to “Immunohealth,” Allergies and Enterocolitis. Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, 49, S7-S12.
- Blanton, L. V., Charbonneau, M. R., Salih, T., Barratt, M. J., Venkatesh, S., Ilkaveya, O., . . . Gordon, J. I. (2016). Gut bacteria that prevent growth impairments transmitted by microbiota from malnourished children.Science, 351(6275).
- 5. Bravo, J. A., Forsythe, P., Chew, M. V., Escaravage, E., Savignac, H. M., Dinan, T. G., . . . Cryan, J. F. (2011). Ingestion of Lactobacillus strain regulates emotional behavior and central GABA receptor expression in a mouse via the vagus nerve.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(38), 16050-16055.
- 3. Kato-Kataoka, A., Nishida, K., Takada, M., Kawai, M., Kikuchi-Hayakawa, H., Suda, K., . . . Rokutan, K. (2016). Fermented milk containing Lactobacillus casei strain Shirota preserves the diversity of the gut microbiota and relieves abdominal dysfunction in healthy medical students exposed to academic stress. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, doi:10.1128/aem.04134-15.
- Zaura, E., Brandt, B. W., Mattos, M. J., Buijs, M. J., Caspers, M. P., Rashid, M., . . . Crielaard, W. (2015). Same Exposure but Two Radically Different Responses to Antibiotics: Resilience of the Salivary Microbiome versus Long-Term Microbial Shifts in Feces. MBio, 6(6).
- Shehata, A. A., Schrödl, W., Aldin, A. A., Hafez, H. M., & Krüger, M. (2012). The Effect of Glyphosate on Potential Pathogens and Beneficial Members of Poultry Microbiota In Vitro. Current Microbiology, 66(4), 350-358.
- Clarke, S. F., Murphy, E. F., O’sullivan, O., Lucey, A. J., Humphreys, M., Hogan, A., . . . Cotter, P. D. (2014). Exercise and associated dietary extremes impact on gut microbial diversity. Gut, 63(12), 1913-1920.