Did you know that if your gut is healthy, YOU and your kids will stay healthy too?! Today's guest post is loaded with information on how to build gut health and protect your immune system — so you can keep those happy bugs inside you alive and kicking.
This post is PART 2 of a 3-PART SERIES on IMMUNE HEALTH derived from from an interview with microbiologist, Kiran Krishnan, entitled “Babies,” part of a series of podcasts on the gut microbiome put out by Rebel Health Tribe. (Heads up, they are long, close to an hour and a half each.)
PART 1, Could It Be This Simple?, looks at how microbial dysbiosis (imbalance) in a women's gut and vagina can 1. adversely affect her ability to get pregnant, stay pregnant, and/or labor and deliver effectively, and 2. negatively impact the health of her own children, as well as, 3. how to correct that dysbiosis.
PART 2, today's article, examines how the immune system is directly impacted by what happens to us during and just after birth. We will learn, from a microbiological perspective, what a “perfect” birth and weaning process looks like and how to protect your immune system.
PART 3, Fifteen Ways to Keep Your Child Healthy (Your Doctor Never Told You!) will focus on easy, natural solutions (bet you haven’t heard of these!) with particular emphasis on how to reduce susceptibility to infection and immune problems for children of all ages, including the big ones, like you and me ;).
The BEST Way to Protect Your Immune System – It's NOT What You Think!
Ok, so I need to warn you – this article may be a bit tough for many parents to read! Excuse my french, but part of me wanted to re-title this…
“Oh CRAP! The Doctor/Midwife/Doula never told me THAT!!
And what exactly is the “THAT“ most of us have never heard before?
The foundation of a child's lifetime immune resistance depends directly upon being naturally birthed and breastfed by a healthy mum.
How resistant our immune system is during childhood and as adults has everything to do with what happens to our gut microbiome starting at – and from – birth. Very specific processes, in which particular strains of bacteria tutor our immune system in how to correctly respond to outside invaders, actually begin during the birthing process and continue largely up to approximately age two and a half.
Am I saying there's nothing to be done to substantially improve our immune health past about age two and a half?
NOT AT ALL!
And how easy those solutions can be may surprise you! (Don't believe me? Listen to this mother describe the dramatic advancements her autistic son has attained over the course of a single year from age 10 to 11 with just one change in his diet: Ian's Story)
MUCH can be done to substantially re-program our immune system and improve our microbiome, no matter our age! But to accomplish that, we must be clear on what was supposed to happen and why, so we understand what CAN be done now to create natural corrections.
OVERVIEW: 3 key concepts based on the latest science on why to address gut health FIRST
1. The mucosal layer in our gut is linked to all other mucosal tissues in our body.
Kiran Krishnan, microbiologist, states that scientists are now saying that inflammation of the epithelial (mucosal) lining of our intestines can lead to problems in all other bodily tissues, including: nasal passages, throat, ears, lungs, vaginal canal, skin (epidermis), etc.
In other words, basically every area of our body is directly connected to – and reflects the state of – our intestinal lining. (Kinda makes you feel turned inside-out, huh?)
Problems like a skin rash, sinus infection, vaginal dysbiosis (candida or other problems), a recurring UTI, pink eye, etc., can continue to reappear until the source is addressed – an initial inflammation of the mucosal tissue in the gut.
What causes intestinal tissue to become inflamed? It's now largely considered to be pathological microflora living in our intestines.
“Bad bugs” are bad because in the process of living in our gut, they give off a toxic residue which characteristically is low-level in nature. (The truly deadly pathological strains, while getting lots of press coverage, are actually extraordinarily rare.) These constantly irritating by-products from common, pathological strains cause the intestinal walls to become swollen.
Furthermore, once these by-product irritants get absorbed into the bloodstream through the intestinal lining, they will create inflammation anywhere in the body, not just the gut (emphasis on the word “anywhere”).
Think about your every day aches and pains – say, a bad hip, tennis elbow or carpal tunnel. Might that possibly improve if you were to reduce the numbers of pathological strains in your gut?
Or let's look at this as a parent – your child has a recurring cough. Could that cough be giving you information not only about the state of your child's lungs, but, more deeply, that the microbial community in their gut is unbalanced, that their intestinal lining is inflamed, and this is being transferred to your child's weakest link, which happens to be, in this case, their lungs?
2. 90% of all chronic conditions start in the gut.
The reason, according to Krishnan, that scientists are now making that statement? Basically, the mucosal gut-body connection described above.
This can translate into any condition your kid gets over and over, right down to the simplest things, like colic, acne, a runny nose, constipation, hay fever, or even being a picky eater! (Read: Why your picky eater could be a RED flag!)
An unhealthy microbiome means we have an unhealthy child. Getting rid of symptoms by using antibiotics, tubes in ears, analgesics, antacids, anti-depressants, Ritalin, etc. without addressing the underlying cause first, can backfire into more – and more serious – medical complications for our kids in the long run. (Sadly, those solutions are the only ones most mainstream doctors know about.)
3. About 80% of immune tissue is embedded in the lining of our intestines.
Besides being connected to all other mucosal tissue in the body, inflamed intestines also means the immune system tissue embedded there is negatively affected as well. As the area swells, microscopic holes develop in between the cells in the walls, creating a leaky gut and additional over-reactive and dysfunctional immune responses.
Over all, a healthy, functioning immune system depends directly upon having a gut that has:
- The correct microbial population balance of lots of “good” (probiotic) intestinal bugs with minimal “bad” (pathological) ones, and
- No chronic swelling or irritation of the intestinal walls.
What do these “3 key concepts” all together mean for understanding health?
Simply put – to some degree, any symptoms of immune dysfunction, but particularly common childhood illnesses, can be a direct reflection of the state of the lining of the intestines and whether or not we have too many pathological strains of microflora living in the gut.
Did your health initially improve, but then worsen?
While there may be times we truly need an antibiotic, most all of us are now aware that they kill our probiotic (beneficial) bacteria, and it's important to understand how far-reaching those consequences can be. Even a single course of antibiotics can negatively impact the gut microbiome for UP TO TWO YEARS… or even longer.
This full-on destruction of the gut bacterial population – both good and bad strains – can open the door to an invasion of unwanted pathological microflora which rush in, taking advantage of the absence of the probiotic strains that have previously kept them in check.
This rise in the pathological population can dramatically increase the body's inflammatory load, both in the gut and elsewhere. It's not uncommon to hear people refer to how their symptoms got worse or shifted to a deeper, more problematic level within a year after completing a round of antibiotics.
While protocols of antibiotics can worsen microbial imbalance, intestinal inflammation, and immune system dysfunction, nevertheless it's possible, maybe even likely, that the foundation for that gut dysbiosis began far earlier in life.
How our children get their immune resistance – or not – from Mom
For better or worse, when it comes to our prevalence to develop illness, MOMS RULE! This is because most of the strains we have in our microbiomes come originally from her. This happens:
- First, when baby picks up strains while passing through mum's vaginal canal during the birthing process, and
- Next, through consuming bacteria found naturally in breast milk.
How a mother-to-be make sure she has the correct strains in her vaginal canal and breast milk in preparation for birth? Read this previous article, A Surprisingly Simple Solution.
Why is exposure to particular bacteria “necessary” for a newborn at all?
Because it's probiotic bacteria's job to tutor baby's very naive immune system in how to respond properly to pathological invaders. When baby has too much exposure, too early on, to too many “bad” bacteria, the immune system gets confused, and chronically either overreacts or underreacts.
Krishnan states that this acquisition of appropriate strains of bacteria and programming of the child's immune system continues from birth up through the first 838 days of life. With some additional, immune plasticity through about 5-6 years old, the age of approximately two and a half is the point at which a child's immune system has become pretty much fully programmed by the bacterial population to which it has been exposed.
If this natural process is interfered with, without help, the immune system may remain somewhat handicapped, even into adulthood.
This is why children on the ADD/ADHD/Autism spectrum don't tend to get a diagnosis until right around the time that their gut microbiome profile has fully matured. The neurological deficits due to the microbial imbalance in their gut do not settle into a fairly static picture until about that age.
Children whose immune systems do not correctly receive this valuable immunological lesson, particularly infants and babies with low levels of bifidobacter, according to Krishnan, have much higher rates of autoimmune disorders like allergies, asthma, eczema, etc.
Who are these babies that develop more immune dysfunctions? Those:
- Born by c-section,
- Given antibiotics at or shortly after birth and/or
The bacteria we inherit, largely from our mothers, may be as – or more – important than the genetic material we get from either parent.
Increasingly the medical world is examining the possibility that genetic material does not necessarily determine whether or not we develop a particular disease, but rather, that malfunctioning genes may need to be triggered by an environmental factor for symptoms or disease to actually develop.
What may be the most likely trigger? Pathological microflora in the gut.
Already, Krishnan says, Types 1 & 2 Diabetes, as well as Celiac Disease, have been shown to be the result of this two-part process of a “defective” genetic background in combination specifically with microbiological activation.
This makes perfect sense to me because an acquaintance of mine has a very uncommon form of Muscular Dystrophy, an autoimmune disease which keeps him in constant pain and wheelchair-bound. For years his doctors told him the only reason he developed this disease is because he inherited two rare recessive genes, each of which must be contributed by the mother and father both.
That is, however, until new genetic testing recently proved that his younger brother, who shows no signs of the disease, has the exact same genetic profile! Clearly, more than a genetic inclination is necessary to actually develop a disease and the health of the gut microbiome appears to be a key contributor.
Microbiological factoid #1: Birthing is supposed to be dirty!
It's no accident that the anus and vagina are in close proximity and that moms frequently defecate during labor. That urge to poop is actually a bodily control mechanism designed to ensure that baby gets some exposure to the relatively benign strains of E. coli and Enterococcus commonly found in bowel movements.
These particular strain are facultative, that is, they are able to breathe in two kinds of environments: those that contain oxygen and those that do not (are anaerobic).
In an ideal labor and delivery, three important microbiological things happen in sequence:
- The newborn picks up a high percentage of Lactobacilli, along with a smaller amount of Bifidobacter, when passing through mom's vaginal canal.
- Baby also gets exposed to some facultative strains, like E. coli and Enterococcus from mom's bowel movement, during natural childbirth.
- The infant gets exposed to a high percentage of Bifidobacterium from nursing on breast milk.
Turns out, the primary reason why breast milk is THE ideal food for newborns is because it provides the perfect food to grow specific, beneficial bacteria in the baby's gut. Breast milk contains the correct ratio and amount of prebiotic sugars, over 200 types of oligosaccharides, which actually cannot be digested by the baby, but instead are in breast milk specifically to help gut bacteria thrive.
Furthermore, if mum is healthy herself, her milk is loaded with additional probiotic strains, especially bifidobacterium. These not only enable the baby to better digest nutrients for its rapidly growing brain and body, but bifidobacter in particular also stands guard by the infant's vulnerable immune system to protect it from pathological invaders.
No formula has ever been invented that can perform these multiple functions as well as mother's milk.
During the first few days after birth, says Krishnan, the critically important facultative strains are performing a secondary function. The newborn's intestinal tract, being so immature, still contains some oxygen in it, but the facultative bacteria then consume all the remaining oxygen.
Any gut bacteria that cannot live without oxygen now die, to be replaced exclusively by facultative and/or anaerobic strains. From this point on in that child's life, all gut microflora must be able to thrive in a 100% oxygen-free environment.
Why this is so important will be discussed more in the next article, but for now, I just want you to remember that any probiotic bacteria we consume because we want it to survive to our gut to kill pathological strains must be able to exist in an environment that contains NO OXYGEN.
(Note from Kelly: which is why I take only this probiotic now.)
Microbiological factoid #2: Baby's first food should be meat and saturated fat!
Ideally baby lives exclusively on mother's bifido-rich milk, on demand, for the first several months of life – or, until the baby naturally begins to express an interest in food.
Krishnan describes a recent study which looked at the much stronger immune systems of adult sub-Saharan peoples as compared to European populations. What microbiologists found was much higher levels of Bacteroides in sub-Saharan guts (a type of bacteria) as compared to Europeans who have high levels of Prevotella (another type of bacteria).
Researchers found this difference linked to differing infant feeding practices.
What we eat determines what microflora will be able to thrive in our gut microbiome. First food for European babies is carbohydrates – mashed up fruits, vegetables and cereals. Earliest food for sub-Saharan peoples is primarily meat, saturated fat and/or raw egg yolk.
Starting with an animal protein source in combination with animal fat encourages the growth of Bacteroides which:
- Strengthens and protects your immune system,
- Increases our ability to produce anti-inflammatory factors, and
- Supports the production of short chain fatty acids which can prevent leaky gut.
High levels of Prevotella, on the other hand, not only sets the stage for a weakened immune system and higher prevalence of serious auto-immune conditions later in life, but also encourages the growth of specific strains of bacteria that create obesity.
“Ok, but WAIT – go back to antibiotics, c-section and bottle feeding!!! What about those??”
Don't despair! Science is not a criticism.
In the next post in this series we will look at how to compensate for common birthing and weaning practices that may have interrupted a child's natural, microbiological processes as well as commonsense lifestyle and dietary solutions designed by nature to improve our immune health naturally.
There's so much more to talk about and I look forward to hearing your comments!
- The only probiotics I take now. Read more about why here: Is my probiotic really helping or am I just wasting money?
- This Mom will make you cry, how ONE change made a huge difference in her Autistic son.
- California Church: Get the Shots or NO Vacation Bible School! (Can the Church Require Vaccinations?)
- Could it be this Simple? A Surprising Solution for Up to 64% of Women Who Can’t Get Pregnant?
- Soy infant formula: birth control for babies?!
- Suffering from eczema? I've heard this book, The Eczema Diet, is really good.
(Kiran Krishnan is a Research Microbiologist and has been involved in the dietary supplement and nutrition market for the past 16 years. He comes from a strict research background having spent several years with hands-on R&D in the fields of molecular medicine and microbiology at the University of Iowa… Kiran also established a Clinical Research Organization where he designed and conducted over a dozen human clinical trials in human nutrition. He is currently involved in 3 novel clinical trials on probiotics and the human microbiome.)