August 19, 2013
Back to school time means kids spend more time in close quarters with other kids where they’re exposed to the latest “flu” bug or virus that’s floating around. This adds up to an unhappy child, missed days from school, and missed work days for Mom or Dad. It’s impossible for kids to completely avoid exposure to infection-causing organisms, even if they wash their hands regularly and stay away from other children that are sick. Fortunately, kids have a natural defense against infection – a healthy immune system.
What is immunity anyway? A child’s immune system consists of a complex network of cells, tissues and proteins that work together to ward off foreign invaders so these pathogens are less able to take up residence. When this system is working effectively, bacteria and viruses have a harder time gaining a foothold in a child’s body and may be quickly eliminated before they can cause problems. What’s surprising is 70% of a child’s immune system is found in their gut. The rest of their immune system is located in other organs like the lymphatic system, the spleen, bone marrow and thymus gland. When pathogens like bacteria and viruses enter the digestive tract, immune cells that are stored in lymph tissue are activated and help to keep these pathogens from causing illness.
Since the gut and digestive tract play such a vital role in fighting off attacks, it’s important to keep it healthy. The key to doing this lies partially with nurturing “good” bacteria, or probiotics, that live in the digestive tract. Inside a child’s gut lies an amazing diversity of bacteria, close to 100 trillion of them. Some of these bacteria play a role in keeping unwanted bacteria and viruses in check by competing for their resources and by producing factors that make it harder for “bad” bacteria to thrive. It’s when the balance between good bacteria and bad bacteria is altered that the bad bacteria gain an advantage and the risk of poor health goes up.
How can a child build natural defenses against poor health? One way is to keep their gut healthy. Probiotic supplements are a source of good bacteria that create a healthier environment inside the gut and digestive tract. These bacteria line the gut and act as a first line defense against bacteria and viruses that threaten to take control and cause infection. Best of all, they’re safe for kids to take, although children that have reduced immune function shouldn’t take them without a doctor’s okay.
Adults typically take probiotics in capsule form but some kids have problems swallowing pills. For children, there are probiotic powders that provide a diversity of probiotic bacteria in an easy-to-take form. It’s simple to mix the contents with a healthy food like peanut butter or almond butter, a fruit and veggie smoothie, hot oatmeal or a container of yogurt to help it go down quickly. Kids won’t notice the taste – they’ll only get the benefits. It’s a small step to take for greater protection during cold and flu season.
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