Nutrition Series Part 5: Probiotics
**Over the past few weeks we’ve discussed utilizing a gluten free and casein free diet, an allergen elimination diet, and a diet free of additives and dyes, to help your child have a decrease in symptoms from autism, ADHD, asthma and allergies. We moved on to helpful supplements with the last update being about omega’s! This week is all about probiotics!**
If you’ve been on the internet at all in the last 6 months, you know ‘probiotics’ is a buzzword right now. Everyone’s talking about them and with good reason!
Probiotics are live cultures and good bacteria or yeast, that help restore a healthy balance to your gut. They can be taken via capsule or eaten in yogurt and other fermented foods such as kefir, kimchi, or sauerkraut. These cultures are also found in breastmilk.
Gut health is directly linked to brain health. We know approximately 70% of our immune system originates in our intestines (yes, really). See how our daily diet and food intake affects so much?
When our delicate intestinal system is disrupted by say, a round of antibiotics, it can lead to increased illness and/or a feeling of general dis-ease. You’ve know nearly every antibiotic comes with a warning label reporting usage can cause diarrhea. This is because antibiotics kill pretty much ALL the bacteria in the gut; good, bad, or otherwise. Any time you or your child has to take anti-biotics, follow it up with a probiotic your doctor recommends.
Multiple issues are linked to when your gut bacteria is not functioning properly, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, alzheimer’s, and depression, to name a few. Probiotics are also being used to treat irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhea, eczema, vaginal and urinary health, and oral health.
What I found interesting is people with obesity have a completely different gut culture than those who are at a healthy weight. There’s a great deal of information on how probiotics can increase weight loss. Which is an article for another day.
My child doesn’t have those conditions.
Children with autism struggle with gut health, poor eating habits, poor digestion, and frequent inflammatory issues. Various studies indicate up to 70% of children diagnosed with autism, report GI distress on a regular basis. This includes but isn’t limited to upset stomachs, constipation, diarrhea, flatulence, bloating, and reflux. (And this is just children DIAGNOSED.)
Those with ADHD are 3x more likely than neuro-typical children to struggle with constipation, regardless of medical and pharmaceutical interventions. Children with low gut health or who were missing certain healthy bacteria had higher rates of asthma by the time they were 1 year old. Also, children who were exposed to the fewest allergens (animal dander, mold, dust, etc) by age 3, had significantly lower healthy bacteria in the gut, and a higher incidence of asthma. Down Syndrome is linked to leaky gut syndrome, GI distress and chronic diarrhea/constipation. The list goes on and on.
How can it help my child?
One theory is these specialized bacteria ease inflammation in the gut, causing a reduction of symptoms. When a certain type of bacteria is missing from the intestines of a mouse, autistic like, social deficit behaviors are observed.
One study, funded by autismspeaks.org, found probiotics containing a specific type of bacteria (Lactobacillus reuteri) helped reduce some autism like behaviors in mice. Obviously, our children are not mice, yet when the probiotics are given to children, there was a decrease in anxiety, disruptive behaviors, and improved mental focus.
No negative long term effects of probiotics have been observed. I say long term, as occasionally there are reports of bloating and abdominal pain at the initial dose of probiotics, especially in those with limited diets.
Moral of the story.
Research is inconsistent. There are studies indicating improvement in severity and reduction of behaviors and yet others reporting probiotics only help with GI distress and intestinal inflammation. I highly recommend discussing this option with your doctor or dietician to see what the best fit for your child is.