Gut health is an important fundamental to take care of for optimal health. Maintaining good gut health is especially important for children. Their young bodies are not fully developed and more vulnerable to ailments. Teaching them good dietary habits will set them up for greater health for a life time.
As a father and a holistic health practitioner, I can attest to the importance of gut health in children as a measure of overall health. I have 2 young children (3 and 8). I am constantly looking for signs of any health issues that I can manage and treat early on. Early prevention is the key to support health and avoid chronic problems that require drastic measures like strong medications or even surgery.
I’d like to point out that there are 4 fundamentals that are so important to prevent problems and support health. These 4 fundamentals include optimizing sleep, diet/digestion, exercise and stress management. If these aren’t healthy then you’re just be symptom chasing and will struggle in any sort of treatment.
In this article I want to share with you an observation based on my children’s health. About 2 years ago, during the spring time when all the bugs come out, my children caught a stomach bug. The signs were obvious – vomiting and diarrhea. This was the first time my girls got sick like this. It was difficult to manage. When my oldest daughter started attending school she was coming back home with all sorts of trouble like colds, flu, stomach bugs and so on. They soon recovered and got better but their grade of health had diminished.
What I saw unfold over the next year was interesting from a medical point of view. After being sick with this stomach bug, they lost their appetite and tended to get sick more frequently. Their eating wasn’t the best. Not like before getting sick. Before getting sick they both were great eaters. My youngest daughter was an amazing eater. She had a gigantic appetite. She ate so good but I believe the stomach bug now diminished digestive function and gut health. They didn’t want to eat much and we, as parents, were very concerned. My youngest daughter had a lower appetite for more than a year. My oldest daughter seemed to get past it much easier, only displaying signs of a low appetite over several weeks before improving.
I look for all signs and symptoms in this matter – their energy level – how active they are; their eating habits – how much they ate; What foods they craved; their bathroom habits – how often they went and so on.
As a first line of defense, I make sure my children eat well and get their sleep (at least 10 hours per night). I use whole food supplements to make sure they get sufficient micro-nutrient support. I also use a lot of natural remedies with my children. These remedies are based on whole food supplements and pediatric herbal tinctures. I also use these remedies in my clinical practice. These remedies work great but I did struggle with my youngest daughter because she was more picky and didn’t want to take some of the already established remedies I used. I had to do some searching to find alternatives she would like. Also the communication with young children is difficult. It’s hard for them to tell you how they feel when everything is new to them. I believe these are reasons why it took her longer to get her appetite back on track.
Now when I see parents struggling to get their children to eat and struggle with chronic sickness, colds, mucus, phlegm and such, I think it’s very common to get a stomach bug and end up with poor gut health. Without the right treatment and support, they develop ongoing chronic health issues that require stronger medicine. I see some children having their tonsils removed and tubes inserted in their ears because of chronic infections and lots of mucus and phlegm clogging their body. I also see children repeatedly receiving antibiotics which also can destroy gut health. A healthy gut also means a healthy immune system. Any irritants that continue to degrade gut health will lead to chronic ailments. If you’re children are always getting sick, look into their gut health first.
Gut health is so important, especially for children who are developing. Their digestive systems are not fully developed like the rest of their body. Understanding good dietary habits are important to support their digestive system.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) we have a pattern of diagnosis that explains how poor gut health can lead to respiratory problems, poor immune function and chronic ailments. TCM principles tell us that dampness is formed in the Spleen and stored in the Lungs. Dampness is a pathogenic condition in TCM that can translate into such symptoms as heaviness in the body, fullness in the head, pressing sensation in the chest, feeling fatigued, swelling (edema) and nausea. Dampness can transform into phlegm and mucus in the body.
In conventional medicine, the spleen is not part of the digestive function and translation is needed. Translate the TCM Spleen function into digestion. Digestion aids in the transformation of food into clean energy. A poor digestive system will produce a dirty, turbid energy that can form into dampness and phlegm. This dampness can find its way into spaces in the body and obstruct circulation.
Good health is all about good circulation. Poor circulation, obstructed by dampness, will lead to all sorts of health issues including chronic respiratory infections. This is because the immune system is blocked from doing its job and can’t get into the phlegm-thickened areas. When the immune system is blocked bad bugs will thrive resulting in chronic infections.
Here are some tips to decrease dampness and phlegm, strengthen your gut and your optimize your immunity:
Avoid cold foods and drinks – cold will cool down the digestive fire and weak our stomachs’ ability to be efficient in digesting food. Here’s some common sense proof – spices are often used in foods to aid in digestion. Try eating food without any spices and notice how it might sit heavy in your stomach and not move along well. Spices warm the digestive fires. Most spices in food like pepper, ginger, cumin and other digestive aids like garlic and onions improve digestion. The bad bugs don’t thrive in the gut well when garlic and onions are around. Children don’t tend to like strong flavors and therein lies the struggle. Try introducing spices in small amounts slowly over time. They will get use to them.
Don’t overeat – only eat until you are 80% full. Overeating will overwhelm the digestive system and weaken its ability to function optimally. If you feel tired after eating you overdid it and your losing energy instead making more of it.
Eat lots of sugar and carbs (let’s see if you’re paying attention! )– if you want to destroy your digestive system, form lots of dampness and phlegm, feel tired, feel edgy and gain weight then eats lots of sugar and carbs. If you don’t like all these conditions, then avoid sugar and decrease your carbs (staple foods like cereal, grains, – bread, pasta and potato)!
Get more exercise/get moving – The body is like a tube. Everything flows through it like a tube – blood, food, air and so on. When you feel sluggish, heavy or even constipated, things are probably clogged up inside. When you feel clogged you need to make sure all the tubes are flowing. Exercise causes the body cells to want to eat more and pull in more or pull along more for better circulation. Every tube between the input and outputs of the body will start to literally flow better with more exercise. In the end you should only eat what you need to support your activity.
Eat real foods and limit processed foods – real foods have real nutrition. Process foods contain toxins, chemicals and preservatives. Many nutrients have been beaten out of processed foods. They are a poor source of nutrition and you shouldn’t rely on them as staple foods to eat daily.
Early warning signs of getting sick – check the nose and cheeks. If they are cold it’s possible they will catch a cold if they aren’t treated. Make sure to dress warm, protect your neck from wind, eat warming foods like soup, ginger tea and use spices like pepper, ginger and cinnamon. Also try taking in more onions and garlic to warm your system. This is helpful for young children you can’t talk or communicate how they feel. For early signs of older children getting sick pay attention to any complaints of bellyache. It usually starts in the gut then turns into a respiratory condition.
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