Doesn’t it seem like your kid brings home every bug imaginable when the school year starts? Sure, that exposure to different viruses and bacteria challenges and strengthens their immune system … but is there a more pleasant way to build up their defences?
Sure is. You can support your child’s immune system by nourishing their microbiome: the community of bacteria and other microorganisms that live inside your kiddo—especially in their gut. Not only does a healthy microbiome help supply your little one’s growing body with nutrients, but it also ensures their immune system develops properly!
If you’re a mom, you’ve already boosted your child’s microbiome in a big way, whether you were aware of it at the time or not. Long before a baby is born, the microbial communities in the baby’s mother are sharing immune cells with the developing fetus. From day one, bacteria start educating the immune system. And, after birth, when a mother breastfeeds, she’s passing along microbes. Among other benefits, this sharing of bacteria has been associated with a decreased
risk of allergies.
You can support your child’s microbiome—and, by extension, their entire immune system—beyond infancy by ensuring that they get adequate amounts of the three Ps: phytonutrients, prebiotics, and probiotics.
Phytonutrients are the compounds that give plants their unique taste, texture, and color. Phytonutrients have many health benefits, one of which is supporting the growth of beneficial microbes. For example, research has found that eating broccoli (a kid favorite in my household) directly impacts bacterial communities in the gut.
My advice for getting children to eat their veggies is to not give up! Give your child a variety of plant foods so they develop an appreciation for a wide range of tastes and textures. But when that doesn’t work, I often recommend children take a whole food-based superfood powder made from a variety of fruits and vegetables to maximize their phytonutrient intake. (Try Superfood Powder Chocolate Pudding for a delicious way to work this phytonutrient-dense supplement into your child’s diet.)
Prebiotics are food for our gut bacteria. Research suggests that probiotics and prebiotics can help prevent infections in children in daycares.
Giving your child a variety of plant foods will maximize their prebiotic consumption. Some of my fam’s favorite prebiotic foods are raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries. We make smoothies with organic frozen berries and cookies with rolled oats—both treats are full of healthy prebiotics!
A diverse collection of gut flora teaches the immune system to differentiate between friend and foe, and having the right set of gut microbes boosts the activity of immune cells in the gut. Probiotics, aka “good” bacteria, help balance gut microbes.
Probiotics like Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus reuteri, and Saccharomyces boulardii are some of the best-studied species. They’re helpful for reducing diarrhea caused by rotavirus, which is common in children during flu season. Probiotics can also be beneficial for reducing allergies and atopic eczema. Probiotic supplements are generally well tolerated by children, and you can find tasty options for young palates.