The word “gut” is used to describe our digestive system often referred to as our gastrointestinal tract (GI tract). The GI tract is made up of the oral cavity, pharynx, esophagus, stomach, small intestine and large intestine.
What do does gut health have to do with developmental delays?
There is a link between the state of a persons digestive system and a person’s overall health. The digestive system houses microbes; tiny organisms including fungi, viruses and bacteria. The healthy microbes which reside in our gut break down food and play an important role in the digestion and absorption of nutrients. Microbes are also responsible for housing 80% of our immune system, vitamin production, detoxification and protect us from pathogens entering the blood stream. A healthy gut contains trillions of microbes to carry out these functions. To put it in perspective just how important our gut microbes are, we are 90% microbes and only 10% human cells!! So it is vital to look after these little gut bugs, as we need them to survive.
Damaged gut microbiota can occur due to a range of environmental reasons including being born via c-section, not being breast fed, antibiotics, infection, exposure to environmental toxins and a diet high in refined foods. When the microbiota is damaged through these environmental and lifestyle exposures the microbes are unable to perform their functions and harmful bacteria take over the digestive tract and cause an imbalance, known as a dysbiosis. Harmful microbes can enter the blood stream and penetrate the blood brain barrier and be the instigator of many challenges.
How are we harming our gut?
Lifestyle factors are the primary reason why children may develop an imbalanced gut microbiome. In today’s modern industrialised world it is almost impossible not to get exposed to the toxins from our food, water and environment.
Children are constantly exposed to man-made chemicals some of which are toxic to our body and can poison our healthy gut microbiome. When healthy microbes have been poisoned, this causes the gut wall to become porus and “leaky”. It opens the gate for undigested food, harmful bacteria and other toxins to enter the bloodstream and wreak havoc on the body.
The following lifestyle choices can damage the gut microbiome:
- Antibiotics: through prescription medication as well as in the feed given to animals.
- Not being breast fed
- Born by C-section
- Processed and refined foods
- The contraceptive pill
- Herbicides, pesticides, preservatives in our food supply and antibiotics that have been regularly prescribed
- Chemicals in our water
- Alcohol and substance abuse
- Infection and disease
- Old age
- Toxic and environmental chemicals
- Dental work
- Using anti-microbial soaps, hand washes and body lotions
Some of these factors are unavoidable, however it is important that we are informed so we can make mindful decisions for ourselves and our children in avoiding gut dysbiosis.
What happens when our gut wall becomes damaged?
When the gut wall is damaged the following occurs:
- Pathogenic microbes and toxins can enter the blood stream and attack the body
- Foods absorb partially digested leading to food allergies and intolerances
general toxicity in the body
- Immune system reacts
How can we promote optimal gut health in children with autism?
There are three main diet related interventions that may need addressing in order to restore a damaged gut. Firstly, removing foods which irritate the gut lining. Secondly adding foods back into the diet to heal the gut lining. Thirdly, repopulating the gut with good bacteria.
Foods to consider removing from the diet:
- Processed refined foods
- Gluten found in wheat, rye & barley (investigation from healthcare professional required)
- Casein found in dairy (investigation from healthcare professional required)
Foods to consider adding to the diet:
- Foods high in prebiotics
- Fermented foods (which contain probiotics)