Digestion is one of those things that we know is important, but we don’t pay much attention to it until something goes wrong. It’s only when we feel the discomfort of bloating, gas, constipation, or diarrhea that we stop to think about what to do. But often it’s hard to pinpoint the cause!
Our kids are no different. They get tummy troubles too. Food and lifestyle play a big role in how well our kids are digesting. Want to know what the most important factors are and what you can do about it? From food to medications to stress, here is the lowdown on what you should consider.
“All disease starts in the gut” – Hippocrates
Antibiotics in particular are known to disrupt our gut flora. These medications destroy good and bad bacteria alike leaving the body out of balance. In fact, one study showed changes in gut flora after only one dose of antibiotics, and some bacterial species are unable to recover even 6 months after taking the medication. While antibiotics are clearly indicated in certain circumstances, it is important to avoid them whenever possible and take adequate probiotic therapy to recover after antibiotic treatment.
Stress plays a major role in digestive function, and our kids have it too! Stress can manifest as that often complained about “stomach-ache” in kids, and in the long term, this is damaging to their health. The brain and the gut are closely connected partners and what affects one, often affects the other.
For instance, perceived stress causes reduced stomach acid and enzyme function, and changes in gut microflora. This results in a diminished ability for the body to properly digest and absorb nutrients from food. Stress also increases gut permeability allowing larger food molecules to pass through the intestinal wall, increasing the risk for food sensitivity reactions.
Processed Food Chemicals
With birthday parties, Halloween, Easter and other celebrations, our kids are often eating processed or high sugar foods that are impacting their gut. Processed foods are kept shelf-stable with numerous food additives that can cause behavioural or endocrine disruptions, and increase cancer risk. These chemicals make their way into our children’s body from food products such as hot dogs (nitrates), chips (BHA), as well as flavourings, colourings and stabilizers (such as aluminium) to name a few.
And, while we think of pesticides as something that we wash off our produce, these residues are often found in processed food products as well. Due to their lower body mass, kids are at greater risk of suffering the gut damaging effects of pesticides. Studies have identified pesticide residues in baby foods, produce, and other common household chemicals.
When we consume foods that we are sensitive to, our intestines respond with inflammation, leading to the development of leaky gut (increased gut permeability). Leaky gut allows unusually large food molecules to pass through our gut barrier often resulting in an immune response and negative health symptoms. Gluten and dairy are common culprits, but an elimination diet is the best option to pinpoint the ones causing your symptoms.
Recently, my niece, who is sensitive to dairy, was contemplating eating ice cream and was asked if she thought the ice cream was worth the discomfort. She replied, “actually, no.” Giving kids the chance to talk about the options can help them make better choices. And, teaching them to listen to their bodies is very empowering, and will bring lifelong health benefits.
What we can do about it
Now that we know where to look for the potential root causes, it makes it easier to figure out how to resolve our kid’s tummy troubles. Here are my 3 top strategies to keep your family’s digestion on the right track.
- Eat a healthy diet of whole foods. By avoiding the processed junk, your family’s immunity will be strong, helping to avoid illnesses requiring medications. Also, including probiotic-rich fermented foods whenever possible can be a great preventative measure.
- Create stress management routines. These can help your kids as well as yourself. And, when stress levels come down, often idiopathic health symptoms disappear as well (read: tummy aches!). Something that you can do together, such as deep breathing, is great.
- Rebalance the gut with probiotics after taking medications. Adding in a probiotic capsule after taking medications is a great way to rebalance your gut flora. For kids who don’t take capsules, they can often be opened and stirred into a drink for easy consumption.
If you have tried all of the above and are still stumped for what to do, consult with a health practitioner who can guide you through an elimination diet or GI testing and help you uncover the solution that is right for your child.