Babies and young children today are dealing with health issues that were unheard of in past generations and many parents are struggling to understand what is causing their child to suffer and how they can help. Health issues such as:
Poor weight gain or "failure to thrive"
Eczema, hives, and other skin irritations
Constipation with hard dry stools that are difficult to pass
Chronic watery diarrhea
Stomach pains, flatulence and colic
Reflux and excessive spitting up
Food allergies and food sensitivities
Thrush and Yeast infections
Although these health issues are very different, they have the same root problem - gut dysbiosis, which just means a gut system that is out of balance. This means that the number of pathogenic, or disease producing microbes in the gut outweigh the number of probiotic or health supporting microbes. These pathogens create endo- and exo- toxins that irritate the lining of the digestive tract and leak through the gut wall into the bloodstream where they can create a variety of seemingly unconnected health issues. Contributing factors to gut dysbiosis in children include:
Use of antibiotics
Birth by C-section
High sugar consumption
Mother (and occasionally father) with gut dysbiosis
The last point is often overlooked in conventional treatment of eczema and other skin problems, particularly if the child is being breastfed. Gut dysbiosis in the mother results in an increase in immune response in the mother's blood and in her breastmilk. The baby's immune system responds to these immune factors as if they had been exposed to the toxins directly. But because their immune system is immature it results in dermatitis, eczema, asthma, or allergic reactions while the mother may have none of these issues. Topical application of steroidal creams provide only limited results and can be very harmful to the child's growth and development.
The mechanism behind this response is somewhat unclear to me and I hope more research will be done in this area. However, I have confirmed in my own practice that when the breastfeeding mother addresses her own gut dysbiosis, the child's eczema eventually clears up. This may also explain why some children "grow out of it" as their immune system matures or when they are weaned from the breast. Please note that I do not recommend weaning early to resolve eczema as breastfeeding has many other important health benefits. Contributing factors to gut dysbiosis in adults may include:
High stress levels
High sugar consumption
Use of certain prescription drugs such as hormone replacement, antacids, or anti-depressants
Because the baby gets their bacteria from the mother if born vaginally, gut dysbiosis in the child can also occur from the start of life if the mother already has digestive problems. The child would then suffer from colic, indigestion, constipation, diarrhea, flatulence, bad breath and other digestive symptoms. Since gut bacteria play a major roll in the immune system the child may also suffer from lowered immunity, chronic ear infections, asthma or allergies. This points to the necessity of establishing a good bacterial population well before pregnancy and promoting it throughout early childhood while reserving the use of antibiotics for extreme life-threatening situations. If antibiotic use does become necessary then using probiotics throughout and up to three months after the course of antibiotics will lessen some of the negative effects.
By far the most effective method of addressing gut dysbiosis is through the GAPS nutritional protocol. This short-term healing protocol is designed to limit the growth of pathogenic microbes, promote the growth of probiotic microbes, heal the digestive system, support the body's elimination channels, and support the body's detoxification systems. To find out more about the GAPS diet I recommend you read Gut & Psychology Syndrome by Natasha Campbell-McBride or visit her website at www.gaps.me. You can also make an appointment with me or another Certified GAPS Practitioner close to you.
To Your Health!
Naturopathic Doctor and Certified GAPS Practitioner
Elder & Sage