Runny Tummies: Breaking the Cycle of Infections and Antibiotics

By: 

Deborah Colson, DipION, Nutritional Therapist

Issue: 
Autumn
Year of publication: 
2010

Within the human digestive tract is a teeming mass of trillions of microbes, including hundreds of species of bacteria, some of which are beneficial and some of which are not. In this delicately balanced ecosystem, the beneficial bacteria have several key functions. They help to digest food, they keep the populations of nonbeneficial microbes in check and they provide crucial support to the immune system. Many children have their first course of antibiotics at a very young age. Antibiotics kill bacteria indiscriminately, upsetting the natural balance by reducing levels of beneficial organisms and leaving undesirable opportunists to thrive. This often sets up a cycle of gut problems and increased infections (especially ear, nose and throat) due to the impact that lowered levels of beneficial gut bacteria has on immunity. Increased infections mean further courses of antibiotics, setting up a vicious cycle.

Diarrhoea is a recognised and frequent side-effect of antibiotics that may resolve naturally. However, unless the gut ecology is supported, an underlying imbalance may persist, leaving the gut susceptible to frequent further bouts.

Supplementing probiotics can be useful, particularly following antibiotics. Natural live yoghurts are a good dietary option. Just add some fresh fruit to sweeten for the young palate, or choose a reputable refrigerated brand of probiotic supplement from a health shop. Infants need a special age-appropriate variety up until weaning or breastfeeding mothers can take adult probiotics, the benefits of which pass through to breastfed infants. If gut ecology is poor, food intolerances are likely to develop, as the gut lining becomes more porous or leaky. Symptoms of food intolerance include constipation, diarrhoea, ‘tummy aches’ and bloating. The list of common suspects includes wheat, dairy, soya, yeast and eggs. A short-term, 2-3 weeks, elimination of these foods is usually enough to determine if the food is having an impact. If a food is to be avoided over the longer term, it’s always advisable to get professional advice to ensure that your child’s diet remains balanced.

Another common reason for tummy troubles is simply that food is not being chewed thoroughly. The digestive process works best when each station on the conveyor belt is functioning optimally. Anticipation of food helps with the release of saliva and other digestive juices. Chewing food means that it is broken up sufficiently for digestive juices and the enzymes they contain to break the food down. Food should be mush before being swallowed – ask your children to feel it with their tongue before swallowing. If carbohydrates reach the large bowel without having been fully broken down, there is more likely to be bloating. Supplementing with a yeast extract called Saccharomyces boulardii helps boost secretary IgA, an important immune factor which helps probiotics settle into the gut and protects against gut infections like Candida

Keywords: 
CHILDREN's HEALTH, children, antibiotics, bacteria, probiotics
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