Overview on a Child’s Mental Health
Anxiety, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), behavioural issues and depression are common when we talk about a child’s mental health. Studies suggest that the gut microbiome has an immense role to play in it. With the rising trend of mental health issues in childhood, there is a great need to pay attention to this.
Since the birth of a child, their bodies get colonized by trillions of bacteria which is known as microbiome that reside in the gut, skin, vagina and oral cavity. The first colonization of bacteria is associated with vaginal delivery which means babies who are born through normal vaginal delivery are exposed to a diverse range of microorganisms. Whereas babies delivered through C- section get a partly different microbiome.
Apart From that, breastfeeding contributes to it to a great extent. Breast-fed infants have a more enriched and diverse microbiome as compared to formula-fed children. The diversity of microorganisms continues to grow as and when solid foods are introduced and also with environmental exposure (mud play, etc.).
Hence, the introduction of a variety of solid foods impacts the range of microorganisms in the gut. The diversity of healthy microorganisms decides gut health. And there is an established and strong relationship between the gut and the brain. We can also say that the gut microbiome shapes the brain. This also suggests a healthy microbiome is also essential for normal social behaviour.
Factors determining the fate of microbiome during early life
The development and composition of the early-life gut microbiome depend on the following factors:
Food for bugs
Human milk oligosaccharides, the powerful pre-biotic which an infant gets through the breastmilk is another blessing from mother nature. It is amazing to know that the growth of healthy bugs is already pre-decided! It’s us, the human beings, who just have to follow the right path. After the contribution of breastmilk to gut health, it becomes our responsibility to provide a diverse range of foods to the child which not just decides their overall physical health but ensures their mental health too.
Yes! If the bugs in the gut are friendly, they can shape a child’s behaviour to be calm and composed whereas alterations in the gut microbiome at an early age have been linked to depression, anxiety and even hyperactivity in children.
You may also like this – Brain foods good for your kid: How to make your child healthy
A diet diverse in different food groups such as vegetables, whole grains, fermented foods, fruits, pulses give rise to healthy bugs. Whereas, a diet rich in sugar-sweetened beverages, processed food, artificial sweeteners and junk foods gives rise to bad bugs.
Excess cleanliness and sanitation practices may compromise the microbiome. Whereas, exposure to natural flora through mud play, floor play, etc. can help in building up the gut beautifully.
A study has found that children in daycare who played in yards with soil and vegetation had more diversity of gut microbiome than children in daycares with yards that had less natural space.
And this works as anti-anxiety and antidepressants among kids. The friendly bacteria present in mud helps the brain to release a happy hormone. Not just this, it boosts the immune system and promotes the development of the child in every manner.
So, to build up their gut, we must let them play with the mud.
Next time whenever you try to become extra cautious with the cleanliness of your child, just remember you may compromise with their gut microbiome.
Lifestyle has a great impact on gut flora. An active lifestyle since childhood can ensure good bugs. Whereas the sedentary lifestyle acts as a bane in the case of gut health. A sedentary lifestyle and mindless eating are the major causes of obesity among kids, which make them dull and anxious over a period of time. Not just their social behaviour impairs, it can become a causative factor for many lifestyle diseases at an early age.
The early-life gut microbiome can have long term implications on a child’s physical and mental health which eventually shape their social behaviour. Exposure to healthy bugs contributing factors in early life is a boon for the child.