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Do you or your child have recurrent ear infections? Colds? Frequent fevers?
While it is normal to battle an occasional cold, recurring or frequent infections may be a sign that the body needs more support. This is especially true when allergies are present.
If you or your child is sick too often, it’s time to take a step back, look at the bigger picture, and learn ways to reinforce the immune system.
The digestive tract plays a starring role in how flexible, resilient, and strong the immune system is.
Here’s how the relationship between the gut and the immune system works:
1. Your Immune System
A child that is constantly sick may have a weakened immune system. You can get to the root of chronic ear infections, colds, and fevers by supporting your child's inner ecology.
When the gut is leaky or suffering from Candida overgrowth, or when the inner ecosystem is out of balance, this puts more stress on the immune system. This is because the immune system acts as a filter that detects and protects against outside bacteria, yeast, viruses, parasites, and toxins.
The inner ecosystem includes tissue that lines the gut wall, cells that belong to the immune system, and microscopic organisms that live in partnership with your body.
Mostly bacteria, these microscopic organisms—or microorganisms—influence how the immune system acts in the body. For example, research shows that beneficial gut bacteria can reduce inflammation in the digestive tract. (1) Good gut bacteria help to seal a leaky gut and prevent the growth of harmful microorganisms. (2)
Also important to the immune system is a big mass of lymph tissue located beneath the intestines, known as GALT (gut-associated lymphoid tissue).
Probiotics are living microorganisms—like bacteria and yeast—that are consumed for health benefits. (3) Probiotics are similar to the normal bacteria and yeast found in the gut of a healthy person.
A large body of research shows that probiotic supplements and probiotic-rich fermented foods can help children overcome common infections and disorders. This includes diarrhea, ear infection, allergic rhinitis (runny nose and congestion), eczema, food sensitivities, inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, and even non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in children. (4)(5)(6)(7)(8)(9)(10)(11)
In short, probiotics can support the:
You see, while probiotics are a great way to restore a healthy inner ecosystem, research shows that not all probiotic supplements are created equal.
Besides the different strains of probiotics that you have to choose from, you also need to decide on whether to use a probiotic supplement or fermented foods. High-fiber plant foods are a unique prebiotic food that feed gut bacteria.
Chinese medicine—a “folk” medicine that has garnered the approval of the United States National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the World Health Organization (WHO)—tells us that children are different than adults.
1. Infants and Children Are Weak in the Earth Element.
In Chinese medicine, the Earth element corresponds to digestive function.
Spit up, hiccups, vomiting, colic, inconsistent bowel movements, and rashes are all common during babyhood—growing less common as a child ages. Chinese medicine tells us that because babies grow quickly, they require more nutrients than adults. They are also trying new foods and constantly engaging their immune system. These extra demands can injure the Earth element, making signs of digestive distress more pronounced.
Sweet is the flavor that dominates the Earth element. When the Earth element is weak—as it naturally is in babies and children—there will be a strong desire for sweet foods.
2. Infants and Children Have Weak Lungs and Protective Qi.
The Protective Qi—or energy—of the body is equivalent to what Western medicine calls the immune system. In Chinese medicine, the Lungs control the Protective Qi (or, immune system).
Infants and children naturally have Protective Qi that is weak and scattered. What this means is that they are more susceptible to illness and infection. This is especially true of the respiratory system. And this is why children have a greater risk of developing the common cold, a cough, or pneumonia.
It is said that when a child has the flu or a cold, it is essential to protect the Earth element and promote the appetite of the child.
For thousands of years, Chinese medicine has acknowledged the relationship that the gut shares with the immune system. It has also acknowledged that children are naturally deficient or weak in these areas.
Lactobacillus acidophilus is one of the most studied probiotics in the scientific journals—which is why so many formulations include it. Lactobacillus acidophilus is native to your gut and the birth canal. It helps to control infection and promotes the overall health of the body. In the digestive tract, Lactobacillus acidophilus produces vitamin K and key enzymes that help digest food.
But, the reality is that there are far more strains of good bacteria in the gut than Lactobacillus acidophilus.
In fact, research on probiotics often includes a wide range of bacteria from major groups of probiotic bacteria, like lactic acid bacteria and bifidobacteria. And while all probiotic bacteria do good things in the body, each species of bacteria plays its own unique role.
When it comes to figuring out which probiotics are best for your child, first consider two factors:
1. Early Experiences. How a baby is born—via C-section or the birth canal—and whether or not a baby is breastfed, influences his or her inner ecosystem. (12) If colic, acid reflux, cradle cap, or eczema showed up within your baby’s first year, his or her inner ecosystem may need extra support.
2. Diversity. Diversity—or a rich inner ecosystem—safeguards against many childhood diseases and promotes health. (13) This means that exposure to a broad spectrum of probiotics is better than exposure to just one strain.
Studies have found that even in the worst-case scenario, the addition of probiotics and prebiotics can improve the risk for disorders that are associated with a wounded inner ecosystem—such as eczema, food allergies, and asthma. (14)(15)
Some of the most well researched strains of probiotic bacteria and yeast include:
One of the best steps you can take to support your child’s health is to introduce him or her to fermented foods. Fermented foods are naturally rich in probiotic bacteria and yeast. They are a prebiotic for bacteria in the gut. They are pre-digested, making them easier for the digestive system to break down. And the sour taste of fermented foods helps control cravings for sweet, starchy foods.
Below are a few tips to get started with probiotic-rich foods:
Research shows that children are tribal and often mirror their parents. (16) Incorporating fermented foods into your diet may be a great way to make them a staple in your child’s diet too.
It may seem normal these days for a child to be constantly ill, but it is often the sign of a larger underlying issue. The health of the digestive tract will determine the strength of the immune system, plain and simple. A leaky gut, Candida overgrowth, or an imbalanced inner ecosystem can all weaken the immune system to make a child even more susceptible to illness and infection.
Fortunately, research has proven time and again that probiotic-rich fermented foods can help children to overcome health issues, including:
Boosting your child's immunity with diverse probiotics is the best approach to improve gut and immune health. Since kids often mimic their parents, make it a family affair by enjoying probiotics and fermented foods at home each day.
You can use these helpful tips to introduce probiotic-rich foods into your child's diet today:
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