If you’re aiming to support the health of your family, focusing on gut health is one of the best things you can do.
Research has been looking at the importance of the community of microorganisms (microbiome) that exists in our digestive systems, and how it’s connected to our health and wellbeing.
A healthy microbiome can influence the current and future health of your family, with emerging evidence showing links to allergies, eczema, the immune system, as well as behaviour and even neurological disorders.
Good digestive health is important for everyone in the family, lowering the risk of developing diseases or disorders now and in their future. Improving your gut health supports your well-being naturally.
A healthy microbiome needs a balance of the right amount of friendly bacteria against the not so friendly flora. And the more diverse your gut microbiome is, the more likely it will be balanced in your favour – meaning you stay well and avoid future health problems.
Don’t just assume taking a probiotic will improve gut health and that’s all you need to do to support your family’s health. While probiotic supplements might be helpful, research hasn’t yet proven the bacteria in them reach your gut intact.
Most probiotics also contain a limited number of bacteria strains. You may already have enough of certain strains and actually need others, but the only way to tell is to have your stool analysed. Not something everyone does before spending money on supplements.
And even if probiotic supplements do have health benefits, they aren’t the only way you can improve and maintain your family’s gut health.
Building good gut health
Following are 10 ways you can make changes now or build on to improve the current and future health of your family.
- Women can improve their child’s future health by making changes to their diet and lifestyle during pregnancy. Support from a naturopath can pinpoint appropriate changes that will increase the beneficial bacteria your baby will be exposed to during birth and afterwards.
- If you are having a baby, aim to give birth without or very minimal interventions. Babies born by c-section have different gut flora to those born vaginally and are more likely to have related health problems later in life. If a c-section is necessary, focus on plenty of skin to skin and breastfeeding afterwards, to help ‘seed’ your baby with your good bacteria.
- Breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of your baby’s life. Breastmilk is the perfect source of nutrition, antibodies and prebiotics needed to nourish your baby’s microbiome. It also helps to protect the gut lining, which is still permeable, and prevent bad bacteria from causing illness or immune problems in their future.
- The simplest and easiest way to increase bacteria diversity is to be around different types, and being in nature exposes you to a huge variety of flora. Children who play outdoors in the dirt and with animals have more robust immune systems and are less likely to have allergies etc. Another reason to get your family outside as often as you can to improve your health.
- Probiotics are the foods or supplements that contain live bacteria. Prebiotics are the foods that ‘feed’ your existing gut bacteria. So it makes sense you need to eat foods that contain prebiotics to help the good bacteria thrive. Prebiotics are foods with indigestible fibre, such as asparagus, garlic, onions, leeks, bananas, apples, barley and oats.
- Move your body. Exercise increases the amount of beneficial bacteria in your digestive system by up to 40%! Get your family active more often and preferably outside where you are exposed to a wider variety of bacteria.
- Go easy on the cleaning! Antibacterial soaps, wipes and disinfectants all kill the good bacteria we need for healthy immune systems and gut health. Plain soap and water to wash your children’s hands is fine. A little dirt never hurt!
- Avoid antibiotics unless absolutely. Antibiotics have a place in modern medicine but they’re often overprescribed. Keep your family’s immune system functioning to the best of its ability with good gut health as most of our IgA antibodies are made in the gut. IgA is the first line of defense against harmful bacteria and they promote the growth of a healthy microbiome. If you or a member of your family does need antibiotics, follow up with a multi-strain probiotic for at least a month afterwards.
- Ditch the processed foods like junk food and sweets or aim to keep them to a minimum. These foods aren’t nutritionally beneficial and they create a hostile environment in your gut for good bacteria. The more you and your family eat of these processed foods, the balance of bacteria changes in favour of unfriendly flora, undermining digestion and health.
- Get plenty of dietary probiotics. Live or cultured yoghurts, fermented vegetables such as kimchi, sauerkraut or natto, or drinks such as kefir and kombucha. It hasn’t been proven that the bacteria from these foods actually reaches the gut intact. However, in countries where these foods are traditionally eaten, people seem to have better gut health and a lower incidence of bowel disease.
If you would like to know more about how to support your family’s health and how improving gut health may benefit you, contact Nurtured Birth here.
Author: Sam McCulloch, Wordsmith at Nurtured Birth