Doctor Shares How To Improve Your Child’s Gut Health After They Fall Sick
Paediatrician Dr JoAnn Rajah, weighs in her opinion on improving your child’s gut health following a bout of flu.
Children will fall sick when they’re young, it’s all part and parcel of growing up. Almost every parent would have had a trip to the paediatrician. It may be unavoidable for most, but what can be avoided is how often our children fall sick and how fast they bounce back from their illnesses.
We speak to ABC Children Specialist Centre paediatrician, Dr Joann Rajah, on her thoughts about what happens to a child’s gut when they fall sick and how to improve their gut health after falling sick.
Rehabilitate your child's gut health after falling sick
theAsianparent: Dr Joann, can you explain to us what happens to a child’s gut when they fall sick?
Dr Joann: When a child falls ill, there would be disruption in the homeostatic equilibrium of the gut microbiota due to changes in nutrition, antibiotic exposure and the stress from the illness itself.
This disruption in the healthy gut microbiota is known as "dysbiosis" which will be the catalyst for inflammation and potential bacterial translocation.
In layman terms, when a child falls ill, there would be a disturbance in the normal healthy gut microbiota (tiny living things i.e. microorganism living in the same habitat).
This can be influenced by changes in the child's diet, usage of antibiotics or the stress from the illness itself.
This disturbance will lead to inflammation and weakening of the gut barrier, which will increase the risk of harmful bacteria in the gut to penetrate the bloodstream, causing severe infection.
theAsianparent: That sounds pretty severe. Does that mean children who already have a weak gut might fall sick more easily?
Dr Joann: Yes, children can fall sick often due to a weak gut. The gut contains trillions of microbes.
These microbes have many vital roles like providing essential nutrients, breaking down fibre into short-chain fatty acids which strengthens the gut lining, and ensuring proper development of the immune system.
This overall confers children the resistance to fall ill.
theAsianparent: You mentioned development of the immune system. How then can children build up strong immune systems? What role does gut health play in doing so?
Dr Joann: The human gut contains more than 500 different species of microbes (tiny living things) that live continuously in certain parts of the body without causing disease.
These help to boost the immune system by forming an impenetrable gut barrier, producing antibodies like immunoglobulin A (IgA), releasing anti-bacterial substances like lactic acid and bacteriocins and activating the immune system upon invasion by germs.
That’s why the gut is considered the largest immune organ in the body to block out unwanted diseases.
These microbes also produce enzymes which aid in digestion and are involved in the absorption of vitamins and minerals, which inevitably enhance the immune system.
In children, the gut microbiota may fluctuate in composition. However, it will progress to a stable adult-like microbiota community by 3 years old.
theAsianparent: So what can parents do to help their kids' gut health after falling sick?
Dr Joann: When a child is sick, it is natural that the child will not have much appetite but parents need to ensure that their children are still getting a well-balanced diet.
Lack of food will disrupt the healthy gut microbiome.
On top of that, early administration of probiotics is proven to aid in recovery, especially in cases of infectious diarrhoea.
When ingested, probiotics enhance the immune system by activating white blood cells in the gut, increasing the amount of antibacterial substances and antibodies (IgA), tightens the gut barrier and acidify the gut making it an unsuitable environment for harmful bacterial growth.
In recent years, prebiotics has also gained much attention due to its role in improving gut health. Prebiotics stimulate the growth or activity of selected bacteria in the colon, thus improving the health of the host. It is required to sustain the healthy microbes of the gut.
The two major prebiotics, inulin and oligosaccharides, are found in many vegetables including banana, onion, garlic, leek, asparagus, artichoke, soybeans and chicory root.
Consuming both probiotics and prebiotics are vital in sustaining a healthy gut microbiota, thus contributing to the wellbeing of the host.
Ultimately, children who have healthy guts are able to lead healthier lives and parents can put full focus on what is important - their development.
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