What if your child's temperament—aggression,
shyness and moodiness—has less to do with DNA, and more to
do with gut bacteria? What if chronic health conditions like ADHD, asthma and
peanut allergies could be mitigated with the right blend of probiotics?
What if the answers to our collective health and behavioral woes are swimming
in our guts, right now?
My pediatrician sends out a monthly newsletter with seasonal
advice and timely scientific studies, and his recent email contained startling
research on the "gut-brain connection." In fact, the next
frontier of pediatric medicine is most likely found in our babes' bellies.
You may have seen a recent New York Times' article
circulating your Facebook feed about how intestinal microbiota affects our mood. The
scientist in the Times piece, Mark Lyte, has been studying monkey feces to prove that "gut microbes communicate with the
nervous system using some of the same neurochemicals that relay messages to the
The connection between the gut and the brain are undeniable.
Children with the most genetically diverse types of gut bacteria more frequently exhibited behaviors related with positive mood, curiosity, sociability and impulsivity.
They've already discovered that the
micro-organisms in our gut produce mood-regulating chemicals like dopamine and
serotonin, which not only play a role in intestinal disorders, but major
depression and anxiety, too. And in another study this past May, researchers
from Ohio State University studied microbes from the gastrointestinal
tracts of toddlers—searching for clues about chronic
illnesses like obesity and asthma—and surprisingly found a correlation
between bacterial species and toddler behavior.
Of the 77 stool samples studied from toddlers between 18 and 27
months, scientists found "children with the most genetically
diverse types of gut bacteria more frequently exhibited behaviors related with
positive mood, curiosity, sociability and impulsivity. According to
researchers, the correlation existed (particularly in boys) even after
factoring breastfeeding, diet and child birth—all
of which influence a child's gut microbes.
Researchers across the board note how complex and new this
research is. The gut and the brain do seem to be communicating, but which is
starting the conversation? What does a healthy gut bacteria combination look
like? And how directly is our temperament to blame on these microscopic bugs
that inhabit us by the trillions?
While we're far from curing the "terrible
twos" with a good probiotic blend, science is giving hope to
parents with more serious life-long issues like autism and ADHD.
Zero infants given a probiotic strain were diagnosed with ADHD or autism.
In a recent study published in Nature, 75 infants were
randomly given the probiotic strain lactobacillus rhamnosus or a
placebo. Thirteen years later, 17.1 percent of the placebo group developed a neuropsychiatric disorder like ADHD or
autism, and zero—as in ZERO—of
those given the probiotic were diagnosed with one. It was a small study, yes, but
Researchers concluded that probiotic supplementation early on
(specifically containing the lactobacillus rhamnosus strain, found in
many brands of probiotics including Baby's Jarro-dophilus)
just might reduce the risk of these disorders, specifically those on the Autism spectrum.
But wait! There's more! Peanut allergies, too!
A study published in March showed an incredible correlation
between that same probiotic strain and peanut allergies. In a
placebo-controlled trial by The Royal Children's Hospital in
Melbourne, children between the ages of 1 and 10 years were given the probiotic
(or a placebo) along with peanut oral immune therapy. The result: 82 percent of those
treated with the probiotic "achieved sustained unresponsiveness"—which
is really just a knock-on-wood way of saying "cured." In
the placebo group, less than 4 percent had the same outcome.
Of course this was done under strict medical supervision—please
don't assume an over-the-counter probiotic will cure a deadly
peanut allergy—but these statistics certainly provide
hope. Even researchers studying childhood type 1 diabetes are seeing that the
key to prevention and treatment is most likely found in gut bacteria.
Yes, this science is new, but it's also wide-ranging
and extremely promising. The statistics are startling enough to say, why not
give probiotics a try? What's there to lose?