This article is brought to us by WellFuture, maker of WellBelly and VacciShield
We have been hearing for some time now about the importance of probiotics and the benefits which come from including them in our diet. Recently, a lot of research has been done concerning the benefits of probiotics for infants and children and how this affects their health later in life.
Probiotics are the beneficial bacteria that line our digestive tracts and support digestive health as well as health throughout the body. Diets low in probiotic-rich food or supplements, consuming processed and sweetened foods, antibiotic use, drinking chlorinated and fluoridated water, antibacterial soap use, toxic exposures and an imbalance in the microflora at birth are all reasons we might be deficient in probiotics. A person’s gastrointestinal tract is seeded with microflora at the time of birth through the birth canal, and later through contact with the environment and breast milk. Once weaned, we get probiotics through raw foods grown in uncontaminated soil, probiotic supplements, or fermented foods like kimchee, sauerkraut, and yogurt. It’s commonly known that probiotics are good for digestion and immune health, but let’s review all of the benefits probiotics provide for infants and children. Then, let’s explore how these benefits are the results of an all pervasive impact that probiotics play in the body.
They are essential to the proper development of the immune system and the brain:
- Asthma: Probiotics have been shown to be beneficial in the treatment and prevention of asthma when given pre- and peri-natally.[i] [ii]
- Allergies: Studies have shown that probiotics are helpful in the prevention of allergies when given prenatally and the first two years of life.[iii]
- Eczema: Research has shown probiotics to be beneficial in the prevention and treatment of eczema when given prenatally and for the first two years of life.[iv] [v]
- Colic and Reflux: Recent research shows that probiotics are helpful with colic and reflux, with crying time and distress greatly reduced. [vi]
- Diarrhea: Research has shown probiotics are beneficial in the treatment and prevention of both acute gastroenteritis and antibiotic-induced diarrhea. [vii]
- Infections: Probiotics prove helpful in the treatment of respiratory and ear infections as well as candida. [viii] [ix]
- Weight gain in infants and children: Research has shown the benefit of probiotics in the gain and maintenance of healthy weight in infants and children. [x]
- Obesity: Probiotics have been shown to help protect against obesity by depressing the inflammatory chemicals associated with obesity.[xi] [xii]
- Food allergies: Research shows probiotics to be helpful in the prevention and treatment of food allergies when given prenatally and for the first two years of life. [xiii]
- Autism: Probiotics have been shown to be beneficial in the treatment of Autism by healing the digestive tract and curbing intestinal inflammation associated with Autism Spectrum Disorders. [xiv] [xv]
Now, let’s explore how these benefits impact the developing immune and nervous systems in infants and children.
Simply put, there are three major ways the immune system responds: Th1, Th2 and Th3. Other responses exist, but these are the main ones. Th1 is the response that fights infections and cancer. Th2 is the response that is dominant when you have an allergic response. Th1 suppresses Th2 responses and vice versa. When you are in the middle of a strong allergic Th2 response, your Th1 response is suppressed, so fighting an infection is harder.
Th3 is the response that induces tolerance to potential allergens and balances the immune system. Th3 helps keep Th1 responses from becoming excessive and turning into autoimmune conditions. Th3 helps keep allergic reactions in check. An infant’s immune system differs vastly from that of an adult. During gestation, the Th1 response of the fetus is down-regulated to avoid immunological reactions that would end the pregnancy. The immune system remains in this dampened Th1 state through birth, ramping up around six months, and only becomes fully developed several years after birth.
Probiotics help boost the Th1 response, helping to fight infections and suppressing allergies, asthma, eczema.[xvi] The immune response of tolerance, which modulates rampant Th1 or Th2 reactions, is vital to the immune development and health of the infant. Without the balancing effect of the Th3 response, excessive Th1 states like autoimmunity or heightened Th2 states where responses to infections are dampened or allergic responses run rampant are a major risk. Probiotics not only help boost a Th1 response, but they help boost Th3 function, keeping the immune system balanced.
An immature digestive tract differs greatly from that of a mature digestive tract. The immature enterocytes that line the infant’s intestine react with an excessive inflammatory response when stimulated, leaving infants vulnerable to damage from that inflammation. Inflammation in the digestive tract causes intestinal permeability and incites a slew of inflammatory chemicals that can wreak havoc throughout the body. An infant’s gastrointestinal tract also has low levels of mucus, generally increased permeability, and low levels of secretory immunoglobulin A. Immunoglobulin A binds the microbes at the infant’s mucosal membranes while at the same time preventing inflammatory responses.
Research highlights the infant’s need for Th1 support to protect against infection and the damage that can ensue, a refined and effective Th3 response that can control rampant immune responses and a healthy mucosal lining that is not permeable with plenty immunoglobulin A. Probiotics have a powerful effect in preventing intestinal permeability.[xvii] Probiotics also promote the Th3 tolerance, immune balance and immunoglobulin A secretion.[xviii] Recent research shows that the mucosal microflora acquired in early infancy determines the production of mucosal inflammation and the consequent development of mucosal disease, autoimmunity, and allergic disorders later in life.[xix] Probiotics support a healthy digestive tract from the intestinal lining to the secretion of immunoglobulin A to the boosting of Th1 and Th3 responses.
Immunological development in infants and children is not the only thing closely tied to gastrointestinal maturation. Neurological development also depends on gastrointestinal maturation and health, which largely depends on beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract. The enteric nervous system is the network of neurons lining our guts and is so extensive that some now call it our “second brain”. It produces the same neurotransmitters and neuropeptides present in the brain and influences mood and behavior.
When inflammation is present in the GI tract, intestinal permeability and the autoantibodies common in autoimmune conditions can ensue. This inflammation messes up the production of neurotransmitters formed in the GI tract and can seriously alter the neurodevelopment in some children. Evidence supports a combination of changes in gut microflora, intestinal permeability, inappropriate immune response, activation of specific metabolic pathways, and behavioral changes. Probiotics have a profound capacity to influence the inflammation in the digestive tract, and therefore the state of neurological development and health in our children.
At WellFuture, we are obsessed with the health of little ones. As a mom-owned and operated company, we can’t think of a better mission than healthier infants and kids. We believe that the emerging research on probiotics points to how important our symbiotic relationship with these beneficial bacteria truly is. Much greater than the list of the conditions they benefit, probiotics are essential to the proper development of the immune and nervous systems. We are proud to announce our newest product— WellBelly. WellBelly is a targeted blend of 8 non-dairy probiotic strains specifically for infants and kids. Knowing the importance of having a healthy digestive tract without irritation that can lead to inflammation, we had to create WellBelly. Our probiotics support intestinal health, digestive balance and the immune system without a lot of the D form of lactic acid that can irritate immature digestive tracts.