Gut health and why it’s important to look after it

What is gut health?

The human gut microbiome is made up of trillions of microbes and play a critical role in human health. (1) When we talk about gut health, we are actually referring to the entire digestive tract. This means that the topic of gut health actually encompasses the composition of the gut microbiome, the role of the gut microbiome in the immune system, and the digestion and absorption of key nutrients. (2) As a general rule, the gut microbiomes with the most microbial diversity are associated with better overall health in their host, and everybody’s ‘ideal’ microbiome will look a little different. However, even though everyone’s microbiome is unique, there are ways to ensure your microbiome is performing at its best; by eating lots of plant-based foods, controlling your stress levels, and getting enough sleep. (2)

Why it’s important to look after your gut health

In a ‘healthy’ gut, the microbes, which include mostly bacteria, but also viruses, and fungi, live harmoniously. (1, 2) If the ratio of good bacteria to pathogens is disturbed, the pathogens can overrun the gut and cause severe acute, chronic or latent human diseases. (1) In recent years, a growing body of evidence has proven that the gut plays an extremely important role in the development and maintenance of the immune system, the nervous system, and the circulatory system. (2,3)

The importance of a healthy microbiome in childhood

There are multiple factors affect the composition of an infant’s gut microbiome including the mother’s diet, mode of delivery, early-life mode feeding, pet exposure, antibiotic and medication use, sex, and introduction of complementary foods. (3) A healthy breast-fed infants’ gut is predominantly Bifidobacterium species from the first two weeks of life. (4) Bifidobacterium species dominance in the early months is thought to contribute to developmental programming of immune, metabolic, gut and neurocognitive systems. The addition of specific species from both the Lactobacilli and Bifidobacterium strains of probiotics are associated with a reduced risk of developing childhood illnesses, including allergies and asthma, when given in the first year of life. (3, 5) As complementary foods are introduced, microbial diversity increases and a more “adult” like microbiome is established by 3 years of life. (6) This is a critical stage of development to support gut health because there is growing evidence to show that specific microbiome patterns are linked to long-term health outcomes. (6) An unfavorable microbiome composition during infant years has even been associated with an increased chance of developing depression and dementia later in life. (7)

Gut microbiome alterations and long-term health

Gut microbiome dysregulation has been associated with a range of chronic diseases such as obesity, metabolic syndrome, multiple sclerosis, and autism spectrum disorder, highlighting the importance of looking after our gut health. (3) So far, research has shown that our gut microbes have been linked to over 70 different conditions. (2) In fact, an analysis of the microbial balance of the gut has been found to be an accurate predictor of diseases such as inflammatory bowel disorder, obesity, and type 2 diabetes, long before they’ve even caused any noticeable symptoms. (1)

Conclusion

Supporting your child’s gut health in the first 3 years of life is critical to support optimal immune, metabolic, neurocognitive and gut health. (6) Many recent studies have shown that a healthy diet plus the use of prebiotics, probiotics, and synbiotics containing Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium (e.g. BB-12), can restore the balance of the gut microbes, therefore paving the way for better health outcomes overall. (8)

References

1. Singhvi N, Gupta V, Gaur M, Sharma V, Puri A, Singh Y, et al. Interplay of Human Gut Microbiome in Health and Wellness. Indian J Microbiol. [Internet]. [cited 2020 May 27];60(1):26–36. Available from: https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edswsc&AN=000512017100004&authtype=sso&custid=deakin&site=eds-live&scope=site

2. Rossi M. Eat Yourself Healthy. 2nd ed. United Kingdom: Penguin Life; 2019.

3. Durack J, Lynch . The Gut Microbiome: relationships with disease and opportunities for therapy. J Exp Med. 2019;216(1):20-40.

4. Fanaro S, Chierici R, Guerrini P, Vigi V. Intestinal microflora in early infancy: composition and development. Acta Paediatr Suppl. 2003 Sep;91(441):48-55. PMID: 14599042.

5. Vandenplas Y, Savino F. Probiotics and Prebiotics in Pediatrics: What Is New? Nutrients. 2019 Feb 19;11(2):431. doi: 10.3390/nu11020431. PMID: 30791429; PMCID: PMC6412752.

6. Mohammadkhah AI, Simpson EB, Patterson SG, Ferguson JF. Development of the Gut Microbiome in Children, and Lifetime Implications for Obesity and Cardiometabolic Disease. Children (Basel). 2018 Nov 27;5(12):160. doi: 10.3390/children5120160. PMID: 30486462; PMCID: PMC6306821.

7. Yan X, Zhao X, Li J, He L, Xu M. Effects of early-life malnutrition on neurodevelopment and neuropsychiatric disorders and the potential mechanisms. Prog Neuro-Psychoph. 2018;83:64-75.

8. Kumar R, Sood U, Gupta V, Singh M, Scaria J, Lal R. Recent advancements in the development of modern probiotics for restoring human gut microbiome dysbiosis. Indian J Microbiol. [Internet]. 2019 May 25 [cited 2020 May 28]:12-25. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12088-019-00808-y