Childhood is the best time to nurture gut health. It’s believed that a child’s gut microbiome – bacteria that’s essential for immunity, nutrition, and physiological development – is still flexible before the age of five. Beyond this age, the growth of a microbiome will become harder to support. A gut that functions poorly may present symptoms such as fatigue, indigestion, stomach aches, or disturbed sleep. It can also weaken the immune system and impair nutrient absorption.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the health of the spleen relates to the proper functioning of the stomach and digestive system. It’s also believed that the spleen is where digestion, absorption, and distribution of nutrients and essence (jing) originates. Hence, learning how to improve your child’s gut health will help enhance their immune system and prevent paediatric illnesses.
Let’s explore the primary causes of gut disorders and ways to improve the health of these organs together.
The Reasons Behind Gut Disorders in Children
Environmental factors can influence microbial diversity and potentially cause dysbiosis – an imbalance of gut bacteria. Consequently, this may lead to various disorders.
This mode of childbirth is a significant factor in newborn gut microbiome development. Studies show that Caesarean deliveries may have negative implications on an infant’s gut microbiome and immune system. It may also make infants susceptible to allergies and immunodeficiencies like asthma and inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD).
Caesarean deliveries may also expose an infant to colonised hospital flora. This will put them at a higher risk of developing respiratory disorders. Separately, the procedure may delay breastfeeding and physical contact between mother and child. Conversely, breastfeeding is known to support the development of gut microbiota during the early stages of life.
Infants are more prone to sepsis and bacterial infections as compared to adults. Because of this, a physician may prescribe the use of antibiotics. However, the use of the medication can have short- and long-term effects on your child’s health. For instance, it can give rise to autoimmune diseases.
Ingesting antibiotics can disrupt the natural build-up and reduce the diversity of gut bacteria.
External and internal pathogens
TCM believes that external and internal factors are the root of paediatric gut disorders. “External factors may include Wind, Cold, Heat, Dampness, Dryness, or Fire (风寒暑湿燥火). These pathogens can enter and harm the Spleen directly, and trigger gut-related conditions. A viral, bacterial or parasitic infection can also have a similar effect on the gut. Internal factors can include improper dietary habits, a genetic predisposition, emotional distress, accidental ingestion or poisoning, or a side effect of medication use,” explains Eu Yan Sang physician Jolene Chong.
How to Improve Your Child’s Gut Health Naturally
Clinical treatment of gut disorders aims to ensure that your child’s symptoms will cause no further harm. It will also involve education on the pathophysiology of individual conditions and how to manage their symptoms effectively.
It’s worth noting that the presentation and treatment of paediatric gut disorders will also change as a child ages. TCM, on the other hand, helps to treat or manage these conditions by tackling their sources.
Feed your child right
Parents have a pivotal role in keeping gut problems at bay during the different stages of child development. Eating a balanced diet when breastfeeding can provide newborns with an adequate intake of nutrients. Proteins, vitamins D and E, and minerals like calcium, iron, and zinc are essential for healthy development.
At four months old, you can start weaning your child by gradually introducing them to soft, liquid foods. When your child turns six months old, you can refine their diet by feeding them fresh foods, including whole grains and high-fibre fruits. Do refrain from giving them foods and beverages that are cooling in nature. These can harm the Spleen yang, thus aggravating gut disorders.
Use herbal formulations
You can use a selection of herbs and traditional ingredients to promote food digestion, reduce gut burden, boost spleen and stomach function, and improve nutrient absorption and distribution.
These include hawthorn (Shanzha, 山楂), malt (Maiya, 麦芽), grain sprouts (Daoya, 谷芽) and chicken gizzard (Jineijin, 鸡内金). Interestingly, a herbal product called ‘Divine Comedy’ (Shenqu, 神曲) is also beneficial for digestive health. This unique Chinese medicine uses flour, almond puree, red bean powder, and the juices of cocklebur and fresh artemisia.
You can also use herbs like astragalus (Huangqi, 黃芪), Codonopsis (Dangshen, 党参), Poria (Fuling, 茯苓), and hemp seeds (Huomaren, 火麻仁 ) to promote healthy bowel movement and remove excess Spleen dampness. Research also shows that Qiwei Baizhu powder (七味白术散) nurtures the growth of good gut bacteria.
Though, physician Chong cautions, “Due to a child’s tender age, select herbs with less extreme properties and cease medication once the child recovers fully. This is to avoid disrupting the child’s natural yin–yang balance, which can affect their recovery and development processes.”
Give your child herbal tonics proportionately. An excessive intake can impair normal Spleen function, compromising food digestion and nutrient absorption. It can also bring about or delay recovery from gut disorders.
This modality focuses on stimulating distinct acupressure points or areas of the body. These are unique to children and can help allay or treat paediatric diseases. It uses massage techniques, acupressure stimulation and multiple forms of body manipulation to remove blockages (if any) and promote free-flowing blood and qi.
Tuina is also non-invasive, convenient and painless. Because of this, it’s commonly prescribed to alleviate specific digestive system disorders, such as constipation, diarrhoea, vomiting, stomach aches, or a poor appetite.
Likewise, you can consider using acupuncture, cupping and moxibustion. With acupuncture, the stimulation of the acupoints is more precise, needles are shorter, and the execution is brisk and gentle. Sometimes, the expert will remove the needles immediately after stimulating the acupoints.
Cupping is suitable for older children. The duration of this treatment is dependent on a child’s age and medical condition. Moxibustion is performed briefly until the skin shows mild redness.
Identifying steps to improve your child’s gut health will shape their overall well-being as they grow into adults. If you’re looking to use herbal ingredients, it’s advisable for you to speak to a TCM physician. This will enable you to determine the right herbs or tonics for your child’s particular body constitution.
- Only About Children. The Importance of Good Gut Health in Children. [Accessed 17 January 2022]
- MDPI. 2021. Risk Factors for Gut Dysbiosis in Early Life. [Accessed 17 January 2022]
- INEWS. 2022. Learn Chinese Medicine Blindly Every Day-Divine Comedy. [Accessed 17 January 2022]
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