Your child’s immune system is one of the primary barriers between him and the illnesses of the world. It works by attacking substances that enter the body that are dangerous to your child’s health. But, sometimes the immune system goes haywire and attacks completely harmless substances. This is what causes allergies.
While most kids can easily tolerate pet hair, food proteins, and pollen, kids who have a misguided immune system suffer a range of symptoms that can make them not only miserable, but downright sick. Some immune system reactions can even be life-threatening for your child.
Over 70 percent of our immune system lives in and around the digestive tract, which means that most immune problems including allergies, recurrent infections and skin conditions often come back to the health of your gut microflora.
Having high levels of good bacteria (gut flora) in the digestive system is essential for building a strong immune system in growing children.
Your gut carries a staggering 100 trillion bacteria – which translates to over a kilogram – in the lining of your intestinal tract. It works to protect your body from external intruders, like those dog hairs your son is allergic to, the bug creating your child’s recurrent ear infection, or perhaps the allergens that give your kids those consistently red and itchy eczema patches.
So in short – the health of your body is largely tied into the health of your gut, and it’s hard to have one be healthy if the other is not.
Get in early to get a good gutful
The gut microflora established in your child’s first two years of life can greatly influence their long term immunity, and it is not until age four or five that a child has developed enough good bacteria to constitute a developed digestive system.
Early establishment of a healthy population of gut flora, ideally initiated immediately after birth is therefore key. Breastfeeding is good for gut health – the New Zealand Breastfeeding Association recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, and recommends continuing to breastfeed as long as possible.
Inclusion of animal fat, protein, primal starches and leafy vegetables is a safe way to promote a healthy gut. Eating fermented foods, such as yoghurt, and introducing a good probiotic supplement to your child’s diet is also highly beneficial.
Prebiotics (non digestible carbohydrates that act as food for probiotics) are also helpful in promoting growth of good bacteria in the gut, moving through the digestive tract to feed good bacteria.
Foods rich in prebiotics include:
- Garlic, onion, leek and celery
- Other green veggies (capsicum, cucumber and broccoli, for example)
- Wheat bran, rye-based breads, barley and whole oats
- Soy beans