Supporting the Immune System in Children at Risk for Autoimmune Disease

The gut microbiome plays an important role in immune function and has been implicated in several autoimmune disorders. If your kiddo is suffering from, or at risk of, an autoimmune disease, exposing him/her to a variety of healthy bacteria is the best thing you can do.

What Does a Healthy Person Look Like?

Health is…

  • More than just the absence of disease.
  • Not merely a reflection of whether we face stressors or show symptoms.
  • Not simply lab results or other measures.

Health manifests as resilience! Resilience is the ability to bounce back and the ability to stay in balance (aka homeostasis). Stressors are inevitable, and they’re necessary to build resilience. Chronic disease in children is on the rise, and chronic disease results from lack of resilience.

“Health” is defined as the relationship between internal environment and external environment.

Internal environment includes: microbiome, gut, skin, lungs, immune system, nervous system, circulatory system, lymphatic system, and so on…

External environment includes: soil, air, water, seeds, plants, animal and other living organisms, germs & microbes, synthetic compounds, and so on…

What Challenges the Microbiome (In A Negative Way)

  • C-section vs. vaginal birth (the flora on a baby after a c-section is equivalent to skin flora, which isn’t diverse enough)
  • Formula feeding vs. breastfeeding
  • Chronic use of antibiotics
  • Acetaminophen, ibuprofen, steroids
  • Vaccines and other pharmaceuticals
  • Processed food
  • All xenoestrogens, including pesticide exposure (all foods dowsed in Round-up kill the microbiome, and it impacts the diversity of the microbiome), BPAParabens & Phthalates.
  • Too much time indoors

The only way is to AVOID, AVOID, AVOID these challenges as best you can.

Everything is Connected

Microbial health = Soil health

Soil health = Plant health

Plant health = Animal health (animals live on plants)

Plant and Animal and Ecosystem health = Human health (we eat animals and plants)

Dirt = Foundation of Resilience

Populating your gut with various types of germs and microbes is the key to a strong immune system. Since soil is probably the most biodiverse “thing” in the world, it’s an important way for kids to boost their immune system. Let your kids spend time in nature! I can’t emphasize that enough.

One teaspoon of soil holds as many organisms as people on this planet. An estimated 25% of the world’s biodiversity is in soil. Soil biodiversity is increasingly recognized as providing benefits to human health because it can suppress disease-causing soil organisms and provide clean air, water, and food.

Soil organisms make us happy, lower stress & improve cognition.

Expose Yourself to Dirt

  • Eat it! Eat it through organic or biodynamic produce. Avoid power-washed vegetables. Prepare and cook foods with peels on if they are edible.
  • Grow food in it! Eat plants grown in healthy soil and only eat meat and animal products from animals that lived on pastures.
  • Nourish it! Feed the soil with compost and mulch. Don’t use chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Don’t rake your leaves – leaves create healthy ecosystems that create rich soil.
  • Bathe in it! Play in the dirt. Spend hours a day in forests, parks, on mountains, play sports in fields instead of turf.

Nutrient Density Creates Resilience

When the body is properly nourished, it creates something you can think of as “reserve” and reserve is key to decreasing your risk of autoimmune conditions.

Nutrition is…

  • Macronutrients
  • Micronutrients
  • Diverse Phytonutrients
  • Microbes – bacteria, fungi, viruses, parasites, etc.
  • Stem cells
  • Pheromones
  • Soil
Eating a diverse selection of fruits, vegetables and herbs are crucial for a strong immune system. Here are some of my favorite foods that make the microbiome more diverse

Quality of Food matters too…

  • Where is it grown?
  • How is it grown?
  • What happens while it’s grown?
  • What happens after it’s grown?
  • How quickly is it eaten?
  • How is it prepared?

Gut Microbiome and Multiple Sclerosis

  • Alterations in the gut microbiome are being studied in multiple sclerosis (MS) pathogenesis. Samples from MS patients contained higher levels of certain bacterial species – including Methanobrevibacter and Akkermansia – and lower levels of others – such as Butyricimonas – when compared to healthy samples.
  • Microbial changes in the gut correlated with changes in the activity of genes that play a role in the immune system.
  • Compared to the gut microbe communities of untreated MS patients, MS disease-modifying therapy appeared to normalize the gut microbiomes of MS patients.

Nat Commun. 2016; 7:12015.

Diverse Microbes and Asthma

  • A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that children who grow up on traditional farms are 30% - 50% less likely than other children to develop asthma.
  • Researchers correlated the high diversity of bacteria and fungi in household dust – from soil and farm animals – with the low likelihood of asthma.

“Exposure to Environmental Microorganisms and Childhood Asthma.” New England Journal of Medicine, Vol. 364, pp. 701-709.

Try Bitters

Bitters offer many digestive benefits -- they increase stomach acid, gastric motility, and promote digestion and absorption. Bitters also support healthy blood sugar levels and a balanced immune system. They’re great for kids and an amazing way to improve immunity in the ears, nose, throat, lungs, and gut. Bitters also support detoxification by increasing the release of bile and activating liver CYP450 enzyme function.

How To Use Digestive Bitters?

You can take digestive bitters before, during, and after meals – anytime you experience digestive discomfort. Timing is less important than regularity. Taking bitters before a meal primes your digestive system to receive food and start the digestion process. This is especially beneficial for those with occasional gastric distress and normal stomach pH.

If you have a digestive bitter tincture, add ¼ teaspoon of any bitter directly on the tongue (or 1 dropperful) 10-15 minutes before you eat.

To create a bitters aperitif, add ¼ tsp. bitters to ½ tsp. sparkling water. Great for kiddos who find bitters too strong and want to dilute it a little. Tasting the bitter flavor is key to the digestive benefits, so don’t dilute too much!

Common bitters your kiddos might enjoy include: dark chocolate (>80% cacao, like pure cacao powder), dill, ginger, kale, arugula, radicchio, dandelion, peppermint, chamomile, zest from a lemon, lime, orange, or grapefruit. If your kids like to drink tea, they would love to sip some peppermint tea or chamomile tea while hanging out with mom or dad.

The more diverse the diet, the more diverse the microbiome. Simple. Biodiversity is the magic bullet, but the biodiversity our body needs is from the terrain.

Take advantage of this weather and get your kiddos outside.

Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods

Reference: Maya Shetreat-Klein, MD; Founder and Director, Terrain Institute

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