Wednesday, 13 May 2015

The Greatest Gift of All - Germs

When you hold your precious newborn in your arms it is the greatest gift in the world. It is also the greatest responsibility.
From the moment your baby emerges a miracle happens - a whole set of natural events that start a process of immune building and set a course of symbiosis going that will last for your child's life.

Symbiosis - a mutual benefit system of living together - your baby and a myriad of invisible organisms (known as microflora or microbiota) that will live inside your baby's gut and on your baby's skin.

Experts are not in agreement yet. Some say the baby is born with microflora, others say that the baby only gets them during the birth. A vaginal birth is important for this to happen. All mammals are born close to the anus for a good reason. (A whale's teats are close to the anus, so that the calf gets microflora during feeding.) Later on as baby gets bigger, it is no accident that everything gets put in the mouth! Another way to get those all important micro organisms into the gut. Sterilising baby's things with chemicals is seriously harmful for the development of good health.

Once the baby is born, the first thing that happens is that instinct kicks in and the sucking reflex happens. Baby is put to the breast and colostrum flows into the baby's gut where the first microflora get their first feed. So far so good! Colostrum is not only the best food for baby, but also for the microbiome - the massive organism of microflora that has started life in your baby's gut.

If all goes to nature's plan the baby will be breastfed and the baby's "inner world" (the microbiome)will get the perfect food for it to get established and balanced. Balance or harmony in the microbiome is extremely important for health. Good organisms must be in harmony with potentially harmful organisms and keep everything under control.

Most people are completely unaware of this fundamental key to their baby's health.

Some facts about the microbiome:

  • There are more organisms in the microbiome than cells in the human body
  • Up to 90% of one's stool consists of micro organisms
  • The micro organisms are not only bacteria, but many other organisms common to mammals
  • Diversity of the microbiome is important and many people have fewer species due to diet and medication 
  • Micro organisms prefer certain foods for their health and diet can change them, making them less healthy
  • The microbiome of the average western child is not as healthy as that of the average non-western child.
  • Fibre is an important food for the microflora
  • The microflora make certain vitamins for us
  • The microflora  detoxify and help keep us safe from many environmental toxins
  • A healthy microbiome keeps pathogens in check.
  • A healthy well-balanced microbiome can protect against allergies, obesity, mental disorders like depression, anxiety and more
  • We only are as healthy as our microbiome.

In an ideal world a baby would be exclusively breastfed until the first solid foods were introduced. Our ancestors probably chewed the first solid foods for the baby (thereby partially digesting the food with enzymes in the mouth). Babies didn't have special food, they got what everyone else was eating, just well chewed up! This ensured a healthy amount of fibre.
The introduction of solids is a huge change in the baby's life. New foods are being introduced both to the baby and the baby's microbiome. This can influence big changes in the baby's health, depending on what kinds of food are fed.
My advice would be to start with fibre rich vegetables such as butternut squash, carrots, sweet potato and gem squash. A little extra virgin, cold pressed olive oil can be added which helps with the absorption of beta carotene. Later some finely pureed legumes such as lentils, peas, chick peas etc can be added.

Weaning from breast to solids can be a time where the diet deteriorates badly. Many baby foods are devoid of fibre, and phytonutrients ( nutrients found in organically grown, colourful vegetables. I say organically grown, because studies have now shown without a doubt that commercially grown vegetables and fruits have much lower nutrient density, than organically grown.) Included in this scenario is the switch from breastmilk to cow's milk and the introduction of "treats" which can be heavily sweet or salty and fatty. This can be the time where there is a huge shift in the microbiome as the foods change. Coupled with this there may be medication prescribed as the child gets a few colds. Studies have shown huge alterations in the microbiome after antibiotics, which can be the start of a progressive decline if antibiotics are prescribed repeatedly. It can take up to two years for the gut to recover after just one course of antibiotics.

So, the greatest gift you can give your baby is the gift of a healthy microbiome. This can affect future behaviour, performance at school, general health and happiness. Feed your baby with the microflora in mind.