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The Importance of Good Gut Health for Your Child

by on 07/12/2015 2328

Experts have been saying for years that digestive health plays a role beyond the basic functions of digesting and absorbing the food we eat.  Recent research shows that good digestive health (or gut health) also contributes towards a healthy immune system and emotional well-being. Children with healthy digestive system generally does not get sick as often.


As moms, all we want to do is to ensure our child is healthy, happy and developing well, so we invest in educational toys, learning programmes and much more. But sometimes, we forget about one very important factor – our child’s digestive health.

 

The digestive system (also known as gut) begins at the mouth, encompassing the stomach, small intestine and large intestine before ending at the anus1. While most people think that the digestive system’s functions are only to break down the food your child eats, absorption of nutrients and to help eliminate waste2, the gut actually works 24/7 to maintain the overall wellness and development of your child.

 

 

Why Is Good Gut Health Important for your Child’s Overall Well-Being?

The gut plays an important role in certain areas of your child's health. The following are some of the important functions of the gut:

 

  • Ensuring proper digestive health

 

Our digestive system breaks down the food we eat into nutrients that are absorbed and used by the body. The waste products of digestion are released from the body as stool. The presence of good bacteria in the gut promotes digestive health, such as effective absorption of nutrients3, reducing the growth of harmful bacteria, promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria and helps the production softer stools, thus preventing problems of constipation4.

 

  • Maintaining the immune system

 

The interesting fact that many of us do not know is that the gut contains 70% of the body's immune cells5 hence keeping the gut healthy helps to keep the immune system healthy too. Studies have also shown that prebiotics can help promote gut health as well as helping to reduce the risk of infections in young children6 and the severity of conditions such as atopic dermatitis and inflammatory bowel disease7.

 

  • Supporting learning and development

 

The gut plays an important role in keeping your children healthy and happy. In contrast, poor gut health is associated with a variety of symptoms such as flatulence, bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, abdominal pain and poor appetite. These painful symptoms could negatively affect your child’s concentration, learning capabilities as well as mental health. Hence proper nutrition is important to support good gut health, which has positive impacts on children’s optimal learning and development8.

 

 

How Will I know if my Child’s Gut is Not Healthy?

 

Poor gut health shows in many different ways. If your child has poor gut health which also means that the digestive system may not be functioning well, the common symptoms are poor appetite, bloating or nausea. Poor gut health can also lead to constipation, a painful experience as your child finds it difficult or is unable to pass motion due to hard, dry and compacted stools9.

 

 

So, how can I improve my Child’s Gut Health?

 

Try the tips below. Maintaining a healthy gut contributes towards an overall wellbeing and helps to set the stage for a healthier teen and adult life too.

 

  • Include Prebiotics in Your Child’s Daily Diet

 

Prebiotics are the food source for healthy bacteria in the gut and are commonly found in foods like leeks, asparagus, chicory root, Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, onions, wheat, oats, and soybeans10. Some, but not all formulated milk products for children are added with prebiotics such as fructooligossacharides (FOS) and galactooligosaccharides (GOS) that can also help maintain a good intestinal environment. Numerous studies have shown that prebiotic oligosaccharide mixture with fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) and galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) in a ratio of 9 to 1 can help to maintain a good intestinal environment via various ways:

 

o Support the growth of beneficial bacteria.

 

o Decrease the growth of harmful bacteriaiv

 

o Support stronger gut protective barrier11.

 

o Promote softer stools for easier bowel movementiv.

 

  • Help Your Child Consume More Dietary Fibre and Water

 

Our gut also needs water and dietary fibre to function well. While the Malaysian Dietary Guidelines for Children and Adolescents recommends two servings of fruits and two servings of vegetables for children between 3 to 6 years old12, studies show that most Malaysian children do not consume sufficient fruits and vegetables13 which are the main source of dietary fibre that helps with bowel movement. To start training your child from a young age to eat enough of their fruits and vegetables, try sweet-tasting vegetables like carrots, broccoli, corn and sweet potatoes.

 

It is also important to encourage children to drink water, as insufficient water intake can contribute to constipation. Malaysian Dietary Guidelines for Children and Adolescents also recommends that children between 2-3 years old should drink 1-2 glasses of plain water per day while children above four years should consume 6-8 glasses of plain water per dayx.

 

 

  • Make Exercise Part of Your Child’s Daily Routine

 

Experts also recommend for children to be physically active as this can help to stimulate the digestive system for better digestive health14. What’s more, being active helps your child’s physical development while discouraging a sedentary lifestyle.

 

In essence, good gut health helps to support your child’s overall well-being in many different ways, so it’s never too late to make gut health a priority.

 

 

 

This educational article is brought to you by nutritionist Dr Koh Chu Sing, to raise awareness on better nutrition and well-rounded health amongst children.

 

1 Merriam Webster Medical Dictionary

2 The Digestive System and How it Works, National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC).

3 Scholz-Ahrens K et al.J. Nutr. 2007; 137:838S-846.

4 Moro G et al. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2002 Mar;34(3):291-5.

5 Vighi G, Marcucci F, Sensi L, Di Cara G, Frati F. Clin Exp Immunol. 2008;153 Suppl 1:3-6.

6 Roberfroid M et al. Br J Nutr 2010 Aug;104 Suppl 2:S1-63

7 Thomas, D and Greer, F. Pediatrics 2010;126;1217.

8 Prado EL and Dewey KG. Nutr Rev. 2014;72(4):267-84.

9 Bischoff. BMC Medicine. 2011; 9:24

10 Slavin J. Nutrients. 2013 Apr; 5(4): 1417–1435.

11 J Knol et al. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr 2005; 40:36-42

12 Malaysian Dietary Guidelines for Children and Adolescents 2013

13 Zalilah Mohd Shariff et al. Nutrition Research and Practice 2015; 9(3): 278 - 287

14 Positive Parenting, Exercise for Better Digestive Health, http://mypositiveparenting.org/2014/08/03/exercise-for-better-digestive-health/