The bacteria your kids need for good immunity

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.

Mel Hearse talked to Tracey Loiterton, qualified Naturopath and Nutritionist at Paddington Clinic about the whys and wherefores of cultivating good gut flora.

Having high levels of good bacteria (gut flora) in the digestive system is essential for building a strong immune system in growing children, explains Loiterton.

“This gut flora is a major player of your immune system, which of course, is your body’s natural defence system that keeps you healthy. In your child’s early years, good gut bacteria can influence the growth and formation of organs crucial to proper immune function,” she says.

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 daughter’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.

“A healthy gut microflora ecosystem is essential to your child’s overall health. Children that don’t have the right balance of gut bacteria are likely to be more prone to colic (gas and pain in the abdomen), and are believed to be at greater risk of developing allergies, for example eczema or asthma when they grow up,” Loiterton says.

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, Loiterton says.

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)
  • Bananas
  • Wheat bran, rye-based breads, barley and whole oats
  • Soy beans

Gut busters

Just as there are ways to support to the growth of healthy bacteria, Loiterton says there are factors that can destroy it.

Bear in mind antibiotics wipe out good bacteria as well as the bad, so talk to your doctor about a good probiotic if they are prescribed. Other stomach health stealers are high sugar diets and stress.

So in short, the common sense approach to good health works for your child’s gut health too!

This article was written by and has been adapted for

*Kidspot is dedicated to the promotion of breastfeeding as the best possible start in life for babies as well as being good for the health and wellbeing of mothers.

The World Health Organization recommends that infants start breastfeeding within one hour of life, are exclusively breastfed for six months, with timely introduction of adequate, safe and properly fed complementary foods while continuing breastfeeding for up to two years of age or beyond. Source:

Breastfeeding provides babies with the best nutrition and is preferred whenever possible. Good maternal nutrition is ideal for breastfeeding. You should be aware that reversing a decision not to breastfeed may prove difficult. Partially introducing formula could negatively affect your milk supply. Social and financial implications should be considered when selecting a method of feeding. Professional advice should be followed before using an infant formula. Proper use of an infant formula is important to the health of the infant and should only be used as directed.

If you’re worried about breastfeeding, your Well Child nurse or PlunketLine can help.

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