Discover healthy ways to detoxify kids
Children are precious small humans who are more sensitive and vulnerable to toxicants than adolescents and adults. Children act like sponges to things they are exposed to: whether flame retardant chemicals on mattresses or violence on televisions, they are highly impressionable.
Clinically, I’m concerned with how many children present with allergies, inability to concentrate and anxiety, and often wonder what role toxicant exposures contribute to them.
Kids are vulnerable
In terms of their physical detoxification processes, kids are more at risk from toxicants because they are still developing their physiology and anatomy. That is, both their bodies’ form and function are growing and developing during these early years, and their systems are unable to detoxify in the same way adult systems do.
Detoxification enzyme systems are developing and gut microbacterial colonies are establishing themselves in infants and children. Their immune systems are learning about the world around them and building defences and learning how to protect themselves from harmful pathogens — whether bugs or toxicants.
In terms of their physical detoxification processes, kids are more at risk from toxicants because they are still developing their physiology and anatomy.
In addition, children are at greater risk of exposure to toxins per kilo of body weight than adults. They also tend to have more contact with toxins because they explore places most adults would fear to tread. Younger children are regularly on the ground and thus exposed to all manner of dusts, both natural and synthetic. Children’s hand-to-mouth and hand-to-object behaviours are very frequent, exposing them to a huge range of toxins, from chemical surfactants and plasticisers to pesticide and herbicide compounds.
Developing the microbiome of the gut
Over the past decade, there has been an explosion of research on gut bacteria and just how important it is for optimal childhood growth and development. The bulk of an individual’s microbiome is influenced by a number of factors, including their birth, breast feeding and diet as they were growing up.
“We now understand that the microbiota trains the immune system to do its job properly,” says Dr Jason Hawrelak. The immune system plays a key role in identifying toxins and eliminating them from the body, as well as protecting the self from “germs”.
Hawrelak is a leading expert in the field of gut dysbiosis, also known as “leaky gut”, and he explains his two-pronged approach to nourish the microbiome.
There is some evidence, from the studies of chickens’ digestive systems, that the chemical glyphosate negatively affects the biome. Glyphposate is used liberally in most agricultural settings for conventional food production — another incentive to soak and wash conventional produce or buy organic.
Another problematic group of compounds is emulsifiers used in inexpensive, processed foods, such as carboxymethyl-cellulose found in cheap ice-cream. Emulsifiers can disrupt the gut membranes and cause “leaky gut”. The consequence of this gut damage is an increased level of absorption through the gut wall into the body, of the toxins released from gut bacteria. This in turn leads to an increased risk of metabolic syndrome and obesity later in life.
So ice-cream isn’t such a treat after all, unless of course if it’s homemade.
There are numerous pharmaceuticals that damage children’s microbiomes. The use of proton-pump inhibitors for reflux in children (and adults) makes the mircobiota more fragile, according to a human study in 2015. We now understand that bacteria also have proton pumps, and using this pharmaceutical interferes with their functioning and can alter the inner terrain significantly.
Another class of pharmaceuticals that causes “leaky gut” due to their altering effect on the gut microbiome is the non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS) and, of course, judicious use of antibiotics is strongly recommended. Sadly, the high use of antibiotics during childhood has been associated with increased risk of obesity in later life. Also, we know that in adults, antibiotics affect the mircobiota for 2–4 years. In children with their developing gut biome, regular antibiotic use can be very damaging to their overall health and significantly alter their biome diversity.
Diversify the diet
A child’s diet should be high in a wide range of fermentable fibres and fibre-like compounds that feed the beneficial bacteria and allow them to thrive. This means a diverse range of vegetables, sprouts, fruits, legumes, grains, nuts and seeds. “Just broccoli and carrots, thanks, Mum” will not suffice. Hawrelak suggests that providing this good nourishment for the gut bacteria from a diverse range of plant foods is more important than eating or supplementing probiotic foods and capsules.
Playing in the dirt and being in nature, exposed to a range of plant and animal life, help to form a great microbiota, “especially the exposure to cows”, says Hawrelak. Of course, an essential part of childhood is exploring nature and getting dirty. Maybe a bit more of that could be prescribed for all of us.
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