When I work with families on their children’s health, I always work with the gut brain connection and bring in the link to the immune system too. The microbiome-gut-brain axis is so vital that really, it is easier to consider them as the same organ!
The gut includes everything from mouth to bottom, and also the liver. The brain also includes the central nervous system. When any of the brain, the gut or the immune system are disrupted, this can cause issues elsewhere. Research on gut brain axis and mental health is very exciting!
Children and the gut brain connection
You really have to remember that children are not just miniature adults.
Their gut, brain and immune system are still developing, and more sensitive.
Until children are two years old, their blood-brain barrier hasn’t formed properly and is easily damaged.
Children’s guts are also not mature and can be leaky, and their livers might not be at full speed for detoxification.
That’s why we should make sure our kids eat only organic food and don’t get exposed to toxins like cleaning products or cosmetics.
And lastly, children’s immune system is not fully mature until they are two.
If the gut is out of whack, the immune system is out of whack and the brain is out of whack.
If the immune system is out of whack, then so is the brain and the gut.
And if the brain is out of whack, so are the immune system and the gut. Think of a time when you were really anxious about a performance or a test, and got diarrhoea! That’s an example of the brain effecting the gut.
Toxins and the gut brain axis
If there are too many toxins to be processed by the liver, this causes inflammation, which will affect the brain. Heavy metals such as lead, mercury or cadmium will cause inflammation in a big way.
Heal the gut heal the brain
Having gut flora (bacteria) which is out of balance will affect a child’s nervous system, and changing the gut flora can improve behaviour and brain biochemistry. That’s why I often use probiotics as one of the first treatments for anything to do with behaviour or mood.
There are lots and lots of type of probiotics though, and only a few have evidence to say they work for mood. If you just pick one up off the shelf and don’t see a difference, it’s because it is the wrong type of bacteria.
This explains why I recommend at least five serves of veggies every day for children. Its the veggies that feed the gut bacteria. So if you take a probiotic, but still have a diet of processed food, you won’t get the same benefit as if you eat lots of veggies.
Why gut is considered as second brain?
The gut brain connection uses nerves
There are neural pathways linking the gut and the brain. There are 100 billion neurons in your brain. There are 500 million neurons in your gut! These are connected to your brain through your nervous system.
The biggest nerve connecting the gut and the brain is the vagus nerve. Think of this as the LAN cable, your body isn’t on WiFi yet, and there is an actual cable connecting your brain and your gut. It takes messages from the brain to the gut, and also from the gut to the brain! There are lots of things you can do to improve how your vagal nerve works (singing and humming being a few of them).
Improving gut health (like with vegetables and fermented foods) helps the vagus nerve transmit messages to the brain better.
Neurotransmitters are also part of the gut brain connection
As well as nerves carrying messages, body chemicals called neurotransmitters also take messages from the brain to the gut and vice versa. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that affect feelings, emotions and sleep.
One of the best-known neurotransmitters is serotonin, the happy neurotransmitter which also helps you sleep. Many of these neurotransmitters are made in the gut by your own body and also by the gut bacteria. So the happy neurotransmitter serotonin is partly made in the gut. If your gut isn’t happy, you won’t be happy!
Other neurotransmitters produced in the gut alter emotions like fear and anxiety. A neurotransmitter important in ADHD is dopamine, which can be low in children with ADHD. If a child is anxious or having difficulty sleeping, this will affect their digestions, as neurotransmitter levels are different.
Gut bacteria and inflammation
As mentioned, the gut and the brain are also related to your immune system. If something triggers the immune system, it causes inflammation, which is associated with brain issues. Bacteria which shouldn’t be present in high levels can make a toxin which directly causes inflammation if it gets into the bloodstream. It can get into the bloodstream if the gut is a bit leaky. High levels of this toxins is linked to depression
What to do about it?
The fundamental factor that you have to look at first is diet. Diet has the biggest impact on gut health. There are lifestyle factors, prebiotics and probiotics to consider. To get an individualised plan for your child, please make an appointment.