How Does Gut Health Affect Children?

Mar 24, 2021


I wrote a recent post about gut health and its relation to cancer. I think as we age we think more about cancer, heart disease, and issues like arthritis and diabetes. . .but in reality, by the time we start thinking about gut health we’ve already become so entrenched in bad habits and poor lifestyle choices that it’s hard to crawl back out and start over. Not impossible, mind you, but just a lot harder.

Children, however, are another thing. They have a wonderful opportunity to learn the importance of gut health early on and learn how to take care of it long into their young adult lives and beyond. They just need someone to teach them.

Someone like us.

As parents it’s interesting that we teach our children how to get dressed, how to take care of their teeth and personal hygiene, and how to drive a car and balance a checkbook – all the things they’ll need to take with them into adulthood. But rarely do we teach them how to take care of their inside health.

I know for a long time I felt guilty for not letting my kids eat fast food and have pizza all the time. I thought I was making them suffer from an ‘abnormal’ childhood if we didn’t eat out of boxes and have Stovetop Stuffing like the smiling family in the commercials. But when I came to the realization that I was letting them eat processed junk because I felt guilty for not buying all the bright colored boxes at the grocery store – I had to step back and rethink my priorities.


Children and gut health

A study published in BMC Medicine compared the gut microbiota (the trillions of microbes living in your digestive system) of 16 children with type 1 diabetes and 16 children without. Researchers found that the gut microbiota of the two groups varied greatly – the quantity of bacteria essential to maintain gut integrity was significantly lower in the children with diabetes than the healthy children. The article concluded by saying that their findings “could be useful for developing strategies to control the development of type 1 diabetes by modifying the gut microbiota.” [1]

“. . .antibiotics and particularly multiple courses of antibiotics in the first year of life are associated with increased risk of asthma.” – Stuart Turvey, pediatric immunologist

Similar results were found in a separate study published in the Journal of Medical Microbiology in which researchers compared the gut microbiota of autistic children with their healthy siblings or unrelated children without autism. 91% of the autistic participants reported suffering from GI disorders. Only 25% of the sibling group reported issues, and none of the healthy, unrelated children reported any disorders.

Researchers found that clostridium, a bacteria that can cause diarrhea, was significantly higher in the autistic participants. Interestingly, several parents reported worsening behavioral symptoms coinciding with bouts of GI problems. Researchers concluded with,“There is now evidence that the gut microflora plays a role in autism. Modulation of the gut microflora by reducing the numbers of certain clostridia in ASD patients, while stimulating more beneficial gut bacteria, may help alleviate some of the related symptoms.” [2]

Another study published in Science Translational Medicine linked the usage of antibiotics in infants with asthma saying that infants who have short term gut dysbiosis (imbalance) in their first 100 day are more likely to develop asthma later in their childhood. Stuart Turvey, pediatric immunologist at the University of British Columbia and a co-author of the study states, “antibiotics and particularly multiple courses of antibiotics in the first year of life are associated with increased risk of asthma.” [3,4]

And not only does gut health affect our children’s health, it’s also linked to behavioral issues as mentioned in the study above and in a recent findings by researchers from The Ohio State University. The researchers studied stool samples from 77 girls and boys, and found that the children with the most diverse types of gut bacteria were also the children who exhibited positive mood, curiosity, sociability and impulsivity more frequently. [5]

Gut health as a family

As new studies on the relationship between our gut and our health, our immunity, and our brain function are forthcoming, it’s encouraging to know that there are simple ways we can start improving our children’s gut health right now.