Why Probiotics Are Not The Answer To Healthy Digestion In Kids
Are you tired of hearing about the microbiome? About probiotics? I’m not. I’m fascinated to watch our understanding of the body change and evolve.
I have a few things to say about probiotic supplements.
In recent years probiotic supplements have become a panacea among alternative health consumers. Suggested for everything from depression to diarrhea, probiotic supplements are often seen as the key to health.
Certainly, the research on probiotic bacteria is compelling. You’ll know from reading through my blog posts that I recommend them frequently for both parents and children. But there is an important subtlety to understand.
Research is not showing us that probiotic supplements will fix all your health problems.
Research is showing us that poor digestive health commonly lies at the roots of myriad illnesses and that probiotic bacteria is one important player.
That subtlety is an important distinction to understand.
Probiotic supplements are only one part of a much, much bigger picture when it comes to digestive health.
If it’s truly root cause resolution you’re after, if you want to move your child's health forward, you are not likely to get the results you are after by having them popping pills. You’ll need to look a little deeper at the whole package of healthy digestion.
Here are some very important players in your child's digestive health that work alongside a probiotic supplement.
These little proteins act as catalysts in our bodies. They are the workhorses… lurking behind the scenes of every single chemical reaction that happens in the body.
Without enzymes, body function would grind to a screeching halt.
Digestive enzymes are the little guys that break apart long chains of dietary carbohydrates, fats and proteins into simple components that our bodies can absorb and use. Also, healing compounds found in foods like lignans and allicin can not be freed and absorbed without these enzymes.
If digestive enzymes are lacking, undigested food passes through the small intestine and into the colon where it is left to ferment and stimulate inflammation and sometimes activate the immune and neurological systems.
Get enzymes in your child's diet from fresh, raw foods like ripe local fruits and vegetables, sprouts, and fermented foods.
The liver is involved in digestive health mostly because it creates bile which is needed to kick start the process of fat digestion. If fat hasn’t been properly prepared for digestion by bile, our fat-digesting enzyme lipase, can’t do its job.
The way to support your child's liver is to unburden it – it already has too much to do.
- Stick to clean and healthy fats like avocado, coconut, fish, and olive oils;
- Make sure they get enough sleep and reduce stress;
- Remove chemicals from your house and from your life;
- Help your child's body remove toxins by ensuring they get enough fiber;
- Use lemon, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, beets, cilantro, parsley, eggs, and avocado – all have been shown to support liver function;
- Keep your child's blood sugar stable by avoiding sugar and maximizing the nutrient density of meals.
Isoflavones, glucosinolates, carotenoids, and polyphenols are examples of phytonutrient families. These chemicals, found in plants, play a variety of roles in our health including modulating inflammation, supporting endocrine function, supporting mucosal growth(1), inhibiting cancer cell growth (2), stimulating digestive juices, and binding to free radicals.
Get phytonutrients in your child's diet by offering a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, and spices.
Fiber is most well known for its role as an “intestinal broom”, helping to keep bowel function smooth and regular and working to flush waste and toxins and cholesterol out of our bodies.
Recent research has uncovered another important role of fiber. Because it resists digestion (we lack the enzymes needed to break it apart), fiber makes it all the way to the colon – which happens to be the most densely populated part of our bodies in terms of microbes. Once in the colon, fiber feeds those microbes and is transformed into the short-chain fatty acids butyrate, acetate, and propionate. Butyrate in particular nourishes the lining of the gut (3).
Without fiber and butyrate, we can not have a healthy colon.
Get fiber into your child by giving them fruits, vegetables, and unrefined grains and seeds if tolerated.
60% of our body is water and the mucosal membrane of our digestive tract is only one part of our body that needs to be well hydrated. Every single cell of our body requires water and even the space between our cells needs to be hydrated.
Over half of American children are dehydrated (4) which can lead to toxic build-up, constipation, intestinal inflammation, and oxidative stress. If you want a panacea, if you want the make only one simple change, it’s to encourage your child to drink more water. Pure, clean, water.
This is the most abundant amino acid in the body. It is a primary fuel for the enterocytes – the little cells lining the digestive tract. Healthy enterocytes are critical for a healthy digestive system.
The body makes glutamine from glutamic acid. The best dietary sources are meat and some beans. Cabbage and bone broth are other good sources.
The Bottom Line
If our kids don’t digest food well, they can’t get the nutrients they need to thrive. They also stimulate inflammation and start to change how their body functions. This is why so many illnesses including diabetes, obesity, mental illness, and heart disease are now being traced back, in part, to a poorly functioning digestive system.
Certainly, understanding digestion and the gut microbiome is a game-changer when it comes to health and illness.
While probiotic supplements can be very helpful at relieving symptoms and helping the microbiome to rebalance, they are not the only tool we need and they will not get to the root of poor digestive health alone. Eating a whole food diet that includes ample amounts of fresh plant food full of color and flavor is also key.