In their book “Kinderernährung – Expertenwissen für den Alltag” (German only), Swiss nutrition experts Dr George Marx and Andrea Mathis give a comprehensive overview of the wide-ranging and often controversial topic of child nutrition. We translated a selection of their insights and publish their findings on this blog to make them available to a wider audience. Please find the links to further posts of this series at the end of this contribution.
Buzzwords such as microbiome, gut-brain axis, superfood, or stool transplantation are talked about nowadays by laypersons and scientists. What do they mean and what influence does our children’s diet have on the diversity of the microbiome? And what does this mean in connection with the development of chronic diseases?
The human gastrointestinal tract contains 100,000,000,000,000,000 microorganisms which are referred to in their entirety as the microbiome. This number is even ten to a hundred times greater than that of all human cells. More than 90% of the cells we carry in us are of microbial origin.
Nowadays we know that the microbiome is responsible for numerous vital processes in humans. Millions of dollars are being put into researching gut microorganisms. Projects such as “The Human Microbiome Project” in the USA and “MyNewGut” in Europe are intended to expand the knowledge about the human microbiome. Many diseases, such as autoimmune diseases (diabetes mellitus type 1, chronic inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease), obesity, diabetes mellitus type 2, irritable bowel syndrome, asthma, allergies, autism, and depression are associated with a disruption in the balance of these microorganisms. By now there are good indications that the origin of these diseases can be found in the microbiome.
Apart from the utilization of food consumed, many other important functions have been ascribed to the gut microbiome, such as the formation of crucial vitamins, for example, vitamin B12, B1, B2, B6 and K, or the production of short-chain fatty acids (acetic acid, butyric acid, and propionic acid) which serve as an energy source for the gut mucosal cells (“power for the gut”). Components of the gut microbiome such as acetic acid and butyric acid, tryptophan (an amino acid) and other messengers (neurotransmitters) which develop as metabolic products of the gut bacteria interact not only with the immune system but also with the nerve cells and are thus in constant contact with the entire nervous system and the brain.
This is referred to as the gut-brain axis. It is therefore understandable that changes to the gut microbiome could be connected to the development of the aforementioned diseases.
Tasks of the Microbiome in Brief
- Digestion of certain food components
- Energy production through the breakdown of undigestible carbohydrates
- Support of the absorption of micronutrients
- pH maintenance (acid-base balance)
- Maintenance of healthy gut mucosa
- Metabolism of drugs
- Neutralization of carcinogenic components
- Synthetization of B vitamins and some fat-soluble vitamins
- Influence of the body’s own immune system
Is it true that children born spontaneously have different gut bacteria than children born via Cesarean section?
Yes, this is true. When the newborn passes through the birth canal, it picks up bacteria from the birth canal and gut of the mother. These are the first microbes to colonize the infant’s gut.
Can my child’s gut flora be permanently damaged as a result of an antibiotic treatment?
It is a fact that repeated antibiotic treatments change the microbiome and this can have an influence on the development of chronic diseases. However, a single antibiotic treatment is not enough to change the composition in the long term.
Is yoghurt which contains bifidobacteria or LC1 bacteria (probiotic yoghurt) better for our children’s health than other yoghurt?
The degree to which this probiotic yoghurt is superior to the effect of regular yoghurt is disputed. This is because the lactic acid bacteria found in regular yoghurt also have a positive effect on gut flora. The bacteria contained in probiotic yoghurt are said to be more resistant, however, and thus greater numbers survive in the gastrointestinal tract.
Can I give my child probiotics to prevent allergies?
The results of various studies with probiotics as allergy prophylaxis have been contradictory to date. In general, only the influence on atopic eczema was investigated and only a few studies focused on the influence on other allergies. If there is a high familial risk of allergies, certain probiotics for pregnant and breastfeeding women and newborns appear to help prevent atopic eczema. Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG and Bifidobacterium lactis are promising probiotic microbes in this regard.
Everyone’s talking about superfood, but what exactly is that?
Superfood is a marketing term which describes foods with certain health benefits. This term is not defined scientifically but the effect of certain foods which are also referred to as superfoods is often scientifically proven. Superfoods include products such as goji berries, acai berries, aronia berries, chia seeds, hemp seeds, spirulina algae, chlorella algae, but also raw cocoa, ginger, pomegranates, maca or acerola cherries.
The positive effects on health are extremely varied. It is certain that these superfoods have a positive effect on the condition of the microbiome; they are thus microbiome-friendly. Likewise, they have high levels of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber to varying degrees. Some of them also have a high proportion of essential amino acids.
However, many of the active substances found in superfoods are also present in more conventional foods. For example, the nutrients contained in chia seeds (which come, for example, from South America) are by all means also found in flaxseed (which grow in Europe). Ecological and financial considerations should always be taken into account.
Please feel free to download this tasty, healthy and easy-to-prepare recipe which will soon be a favorite of your children!
Please check out the other posts of our series here:
- Why Is Dietary Calcium so Important for Children?
- How Useful Is a Gluten-Free Diet?
- What Are the Effects of Sugar on Health?
- How Important Is Proper Vitamin Intake for My Child?
- Which Sugar Alternatives Are Available?
- The Most Important Questions about Milk Consumption
- How Healthy Is a Vegetarian/Vegan Diet?
- Where and How Can I Cut Down on Sugar in Daily Life?
- How Can I Make My Child’s Diet as Sugar-Free/Low in Sugar as Possible?
Dr. med. George Marx, Andrea Mathis, BSc in Nutrition and Dietetics
Kinderernährung – Expertenwissen für den Alltag