A strong immune system depends on many factors – one of which is a good digestive health. This will trigger the questions; how are these two related, and how can you improve your child’s digestive health?
The basics of good health are simple enough in theory, i.e. eat healthy nutritious food, get plenty of exercise, drink enough water every day, manage stress levels and get enough sleep daily. What you may not be aware of is the importance of something called ‘gut microbiota’, which is basically a collection of trillions of microorganisms that live in the gut ecosystem.
Gut microbiota have many functions and help your child’s body with not just digesting food and extracting nutrients, but can even influence his immune system. In fact, the gut has been acknowledged as the first line of defense against disease. The Greek physician Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, went so far as to say, “All disease begins in the gut”.
Immunity and digestive health
The gut, or the gastrointestinal tract, accounts for 80% of our immune system, and gut microbiota play a major role in influencing it. But how does the good bacteria help our immune system?
- They form a protective layer on the intestinal walls that prevents bad bacteria from passing through.
- The good bacteria can also alert our body’s immune cells to the presence of infection-causing pathogens. The immune cells then attack these invaders directly.
Basically the good bacteria in our gut microbiota supports our immune system. Although not always on the frontlines battling the bad bacteria and germs, the gut microbiota strengthens our body’s defences system.
Thus, for your child’s digestive health to remain strong, it’s best if his gut microbiota contains an optimum level of good bacteria in the gut ecosystem. Studies have shown that having a healthy gut microbiota balance enhances immunity and improves our quality of life. These improvements can be as simple as preventing or minimising the occurrence of antibiotic-associated diarrhoea. In 2018, a local study performed by researchers at Pusat Perubatan Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (PPUKM) showed that probiotics in the form of cultured milk drinks helped to improve symptoms in the case of irritable bowel disease.
Mighty little microbes
So how do you achieve this gut microbiota balance in your child? On top of the basics of good health, include probiotic-rich food in his diet, such as kimchi, tempeh, yoghurt and cultured-milk drinks.
Probiotics are essentially the ‘good’ bacteria that provide positive benefits to health when consumed in sufficient amounts.
Some studies have found that certain diseases, such as influenza, can adversely affect gut microbiota, causing an imbalance in the ratio of good and bad bacteria. This then affects our digestive health, which in turn affects our overall health.
As infectious diseases such as influenza are common and tend to happen frequently throughout the year, there are certain precautions that you can observe, especially during an outbreak of influenza-like illnesses such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Minimise physical proximity and/or contact with others; practice social distancing
- Wear an appropriate facemask when going out (to protect yourself from infection and to protect others if you happen to be sick)
- Avoid touching your mouth, eyes, and nose, especially after touching potentially contaminated surfaces when outside
- Provide your family with good nutrition and drink sufficient water, especially if forced to stay at home because of quarantine or MCO (movement control order)
- Avoid crowded places
- Avoid travelling overseas
- Exercise at home to keep healthy
- Practise good hygiene (hand sanitisation, proper hand-washing, etc)