Naturopathic Back to School Basics (Part 1)
Every year it seems like the back to school commercials start to pop up earlier and earlier in the summer months.
Although these commercials are aimed at bringing parents into office supply and clothing stores in prep for their kids returning to school, as parents we can also use this time to implement nutritional strategies to help our kids excel during the school year.
Besides the obvious beneficial lifestyle approaches like eating a balanced nutrient-rich diet and daily exercise, there are a few specific recommendations that may help your kids have the edge when it comes to starting school.
Probiotics are live bacteria cultures that seem to have varying health benefits when introduced into our gastrointestinal tract. Probiotics are naturally found in many fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, miso, tempeh, sauerkraut and kombucha. It is believed that as a species, fermented foods played a larger role in our diet as we evolved and our bodies have grown to rely on these bacterial cultures for optimal health and wellbeing. Our modern “western” diet has been relatively low in these fermented foods and there have been hypothesis relating many chronic diseases of the gastrointestinal tract and immune system back to imbalanced gut bacteria.
Subsequently, we have witnessed a surge in probiotics being offered in supplemental form as a way to help restore this balance. It is important that I stress the fact that probiotics alone are not the complete picture with regard to a healthy gastrointestinal and immune system but research has suggested that they do play a part.
Probiotics help boost the immune system
With kids heading back indoors and spending large amounts of time in classrooms with each other (including daycare), there is a dramatic increase in germ exposure and potential for kids to fall prey to illness.
In one study, 326 children aged 3-5 years were randomly assigned to receive, in a double-blind fashion, probiotic supplementation.
Treatments were given twice per day in divided doses for 6 months, including the winter season.
Compared with placebo, the probiotic group had the following results;
– fever reduction 53-73%
– cough reduction 41-62%
– decreased runny nose 28-59%
– decreased need for antibiotics 68-82%
– reduced absence from school 28-32%.
Probiotics help with allergies
Heading back indoors can trigger many kids who are especially allergic to dust and molds.
With regard to asthmatic children with allergic rhinitis, studies have shown the use of probiotics resulted in a significant reduction in the inflammatory immune chemistry produced by peripheral blood mononuclear cells.
Further studies have shown specific down-regulation of T cells (immune cells), which beneficially alter the balance of pollen-specific antibodies in seasonal allergic rhinitis.
In short – probiotics lower the allergic load and decrease inflammation.
Probiotics help with mood
– Recent research is showing new gut-brain connections as happy gut ecology seems to make for happier brains. In one particular study, anxious mice dosed with probiotics showed lower levels of anxiety, decreased stress hormones, and even increased brain receptors for neurotransmitters vital in curbing worry, anxiety and fear. With better mood comes greater ease and ability to learn in school settings and beyond.
Stay tuned for Part-2 which will focus on cold/flu prevention and treatment.
Leyer, GJ et al. Probiotic effects on cold and influenza-like symptom incidence and duration in children.Pediatrics 2009; 124-179.
Walker, WA. Mechanisms of action of probiotics. Clin Infect Dis. 2008; 46 (Suppl 2): S87-91.
Yang, G et al. Treatment of Allergic Rhinitis with Probiotics: An alternative approach. N Am J Med Sci. Aug 2013; 5 (8): 465-68.
Javier, AB, Forsytthe, P & Cryan, J. Ingestion of Lactobacillus strain regulates emotional behavior and central GABA receptor expression in mice via the vagus nerve. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. Sep 20, 2011; 108(38): 16050-55.