Gut Health and Allergies

While it may seem strange at first, our gut health actually has a lot to do with how our bodies react to allergens. After all, as much as 70% of our immune system resides in our guts. This is where our gut microbiota comes into play – the good bacteria not only aid in the process of food digestion, it also plays a crucial role in our body’s immune response.

A growing number of studies show increasing links that support this. However, with the widespread use of antibiotics, diets high in fat yet low in fibre, and Caesarean birth that is prevalent in our modern lifestyle, negative changes are occurring in our gut microbiota. New research shows that both the type and mix of microbiota can have a big influence on an infant’s developing immune system, and by extension, his risk for developing allergies such as asthma, eczema, hives and food allergy.

What is an allergy?

An allergy is a response triggered by the body’s immune system when it reacts to otherwise harmless substances such as dust, pollen, or certain types of foods. The substances that cause the allergies are known as allergens.

Unfortunately, people with allergies often have to learn to live with it by managing their lifestyle in order to minimise contact with allergens. There is also growing evidence linking gut health with better allergic response, i.e. certain types of bacteria were reported to minimise or even eliminate food allergy symptoms in the lab.

Gut Health Starts from Birth

Studies have shown that infants who suffered from allergic disease or later developed it all had measurable alterations in their intestinal microbiota. It was also found that perinatal administration of beneficial bacteria halved the development of atopic eczema during the first two years of life.

Two key factors that are known to lower the risk of allergy and asthma from developing are breastfeeding and natural birth. The gastrointestinal (GI) system of a foetus is sterile, and both natural childbirth and breastfeeding will help to seed your infant’s GI system with gut microbiota. These bacteria will, in turn, affect the development of his immune system. Another study also showed that breastfed babies had a more diverse gut microbiota than non-breastfed babies and were less likely to have pet allergies.

Keeping Your Guts Healthy

Since your child’s guts are responsible for a large part of his body’s immune system, it is to your benefit to keep his guts healthy. There are three main things to know in order to keep his gut microbiota in tip-top condition:

Prebiotics

These are essentially food for the good bacteria. Most plant-based foods that are rich in fibre represent excellent sources of prebiotics, such as fruits and vegetables. Examples include apples (with the skin), oranges, banana, onions and garlic, shallots, leeks, beans, legumes, asparagus, and whole grains. For infants who have just started complementary feeding, use a blender to prevent choking hazards.

Probiotics

The good bacteria themselves! By including probiotic-rich foods in your child’s diet, you will be ensuring that his gut microbiota is balanced. Recommended foods include miso, natto, kefir, and fermented milk/soy products (e.g. tempeh). Probiotics are also available as supplements, however, you should discuss with your child’s paediatrician before giving him any.

Beware of medicines

Certain medications (especially antibiotics) may cause a condition known as dysbiosis or dysbacteriosis, which basically means that the balance of gut microbiota has been severely compromised. Since more disease-causing bacteria are becoming more antibiotic-resistant, demanding an antibiotic prescription for your child may not be the best answer. However, if it is necessary, then consult with his paediatrician to see how his gut microbiota can be replenished.

Good Habits for Good Gut Health

After ensuring that your child gets enough prebiotics and probiotics, you should also ensure that he maintains certain habits to help ensure good gut health. Leading a healthy lifestyle is certainly the way, and it should include the following:

good-habits-for-good-gut-health

Finally, always bear in mind that your child’s gut health can be harmed by external factors, such as the food he eats. There are even studies reveal how changes in a person’s diet caused alterations in their gut microbiota within a day. The saying “You are what you eat” certainly seems to be very apt!

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