Kids with GI Issues: A Mental Health Red Flag?

We are so used to our children coming home with the latest stomach bug. After all, sending them off to school all day leaves their immune system prone to whatever germs can get into the gut biome. So, it’s easy to ignore your kids with GI Issues. However, if gastrointestinal distress is commonplace in your household, you should be a little more concerned.

Our children are more resilient than we are when it comes to things like learning new information, recovering from a broken bone, or being fearful after falling off a bike. Unfortunately for them, their intestinal flora is far more impressionable. Kids with GI issues may be opening Pandora’s box for more problems down the road, including mental health issues. Let’s take a look at the gut brain connection and how sensitive it is for kids with GI issues.

Connection Between Gut Flora and Children

We are made of trillions of tiny cells that took formation when we were in our mother’s womb. Since that fateful day where our father fertilized our mother’s egg, these microbes experienced constant chemical reactions to create the person we are today.

In the womb, skin cells formed around the microbes that are responsible for creating our vital organs, muscles, and tissues. This enclosed arena is known as our microbiome (or gut biome). Microbes inside make or break how we feel, the digestion of food, nutrient absorption, and our thoughts.

fetus picture
Things happening in here!

The key to optimal mental wellness is to diversify the microbes in your body. In fact, research suggests that children with autism lack diversity in bacteria [1]. This link is further exasperated as we examine the connection between kids with GI issues and mental health disorders.

Probiotics for Kids

As a mother gives birth, the child is left to fend for itself. It no longer has their parent’s robust immune cells to help fight off stomach bacteria and fungal infections.

The baby must strengthen its immune system over time by introducing its immune system to a variety of microbes from pets and nature [2]. Until the immune system is fully realized, children rely on nutrients from formula or breast milk.

Breast Milk and Probiotics for Kids

Breast milk is an ideal way to administer probiotics for kids. When the child is learning to live on its own, it needs to be weaned off their dependency to their mother.

breast milk probiotics
Probiotics in breast milk have many benefits.

You wouldn’t let an abandoned lion cub back into the wilderness until you weaned it off relying on humans. Otherwise, the lion wouldn’t know how to fend for itself. Children need to go through the same process.

Probiotics in breast milk help introduce stomach bacteria from the mother’s womb into the baby’s gut biome. These beneficial stomach bacteria can help boost the immune system, assist in the digestion of food, and alleviate GI problems. As a result, probiotics for kids may help with any potential mental health issues experienced in their teenage years.

Probiotics for Kids Formula

Breastfeeding is a mother’s choice. With this in mind, you can still provide probiotics for infants with brands like Nestlé Good Start. The company has a line of formulas rich in Bifidobacterium animalis ssp lactis (B. lactis). These powders are targeted to ease common symptoms experienced by kids with GI issues.

Their line includes:

  • Comforting Probiotics (For Excessive Crying, Fussiness, Colic & Gas)
  • Everyday Probiotics (For Complete Nutrition & Advanced Comfort)

You might want to consider probiotics for infants because a study found,

“It also helps a decrease in fecal pH and an increase fecal sIgA and α-1 antitrypsin concentrations, suggesting favorable effect on immune markers and the gut milieu [3].”

Nature

sIgA is one of our immune cells. Seeing as probiotics rich in Lactobacillus and B.lactis (like those predominantly in breast milk) boosts the immune system, the study also found the babies were able to fight off the growth of harmful stomach bacteria such as Clostridia.

Quick Look at the Gut Brain Connection

Scientific circles are well aware of the gut brain connection [4]. The microbes in our system may influence how our mind responds to outside stressors. That’s because they’re already agitating the brain by sparking inflammation that triggers the vagus nerve.

When the vagus nerve receives negative feedback from the gut biome, it sends pulses across the gut-brain axis. As a result, your mind interprets that the system is under attack.

Naturally, this reaction manifests in a number of symptoms unique to the person. However, there is a strong correlation between two common symptoms–gastrointestinal distress and mental health issues.

Gut Brain Connection Study Precedents

Columbia University recently delved into the gut brain connection a bit deeper [5]. They looked at kids with GI issues and tried to make a direct line to developing a mental illness.

As a professor of psychology at Columbia, Nim Tottenham, stated,

“One common reason children show up at doctors’ offices is intestinal complaints. Our findings indicate that gastrointestinal symptoms in young children could be a red flag to primary care physicians for future emotional health problems.”

Professor Nim Tottenham

Researchers took into account a prior animal case study [6]. Results of this aforementioned study found that under stress, animals exhibited a change of intestinal flora in the gut biome.

Coupled with the fact that a human survey found that adults who have experienced trauma are likely to develop Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Columbian experts felt the need to look further into the connection between kids with GI issues and mental wellness [7].

Studies on Kids with GI Issues

One of the researchers in this analysis is Bridget Callaghan. She is a post-doctoral research fellow at Columbia.

Brenda Callaghan reasoned that the study on kids with GI issues needed to happen because,

“The role of trauma in increasing vulnerability to both gastrointestinal and mental health symptoms is well established in adults but rarely studied in childhood.”

Brenda Callaghan

To perform this study, experts looked at children in the foster system. They pinpointed which ones were under extreme psychosocial duress. Researchers felt this was a good demographic because separation from a parent is one of the number one causes children will develop mental health issues.

The analysis looked at two demographics for kids with GI issues:

  • 115 Children Adopted from Orphanages and Foster Care at ~ 2 Years-Old
  • 229 Children Raised by a Biological Caregiver.

Analyses found that kids with GI issues were more prevalent in the first batch. These children experienced gastrointestinal distress including:

  • Stomach Pains
  • Feeling Constipated
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

From there, the researchers checked in on adoptees between the ages of seven and thirteen. They compared their gut biome to those who had their biological caregiver at the same age.

Results found,

“The children with a history of early caregiving disruptions had distinctly different gut microbiomes from those raised with biological caregivers from birth. Brain scans of all the children also showed that brain activity patterns were correlated with certain bacteria.”

Science Daily

Let’s take a look at what these results mean for the gut brain connection and mental wellness as your kids with GI issues age.

Kids with GI Issues and Brain Development

Researchers were fascinated when they conducted microbiome testing on children who grew up with biological caretakers as compared to those who grew up in the foster system. Through microbiome testing, researchers realized that those raised by biological caretakers had a more diverse gut biome. This finding is in line with the study linking a lack of stomach bacteria diversity to children with autism.

Furthermore, scientists realized that the diverse microbes helped with the development of these children’s prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is in charge of cognitive behavior, emotions, and personality development.

As Prof. Tottenham summarized,

“It is too early to say anything conclusive, but our study indicates that adversity-associated changes in the gut microbiome are related to brain function, including differences in the regions of the brain associated with emotional processing.”

Professor Nim Tottenham

It’s never too early to be proactive. Don’t ignore kids with GI issues. Bring them to a physician to get checked out. However, you can also try microbiome testing at home like researchers in this study did.

Microbiome Testing for Kids with GI Issues

The science used in this study is known as microbiome testing. It’s when scientists examine a stool sample and determine which stomach bacteria is in your gut biome, and which microbes you are lacking. In today’s world of Lyft and GrubHub, you can do microbiome testing in the privacy of your own home.

When you change the diaper, just swab the poo!

Enroll your child in the Thryve Gut Health Program. We send you everything you need to safely collect a stool sample from your child’s toilet paper. Just mail back in our sterile vial with preservation liquid and our specialists will analyze your child’s gut biome.

Our database spans over 35,000 science journals and 4,000 microbes. We can determine which stomach bacteria is causing your child to experience gastrointestinal distress. From there, we can formulate personalized probiotics supplements that will help bring the balance back to a healthy gut biome.

Thryve Probiotics Gut Health

Resources

[1] Li, Q., Han, Y., Dy, A., & Hagerman, R. J. (2017). The Gut Microbiota and Autism Spectrum Disorders. Frontiers in cellular neuroscience11, 120. doi:10.3389/fncel.2017.00120

[2] “Early Exposure to Germs Has Lasting Benefits.” Nature News, Nature Publishing Group, www.nature.com/news/early-exposure-to-germs-has-lasting-benefits-1.10294.

[3] Radke, Michael, et al. “Starter Formula Enriched in Prebiotics and Probiotics Ensures Normal Growth of Infants and Promotes Gut Health: a Randomized Clinical Tria.” Nature.com, Apr. 2017, www.nature.com/articles/pr2016270.pdf?origin=ppub.

[4] Clapp, M., Aurora, N., Herrera, L., Bhatia, M., Wilen, E., & Wakefield, S. (2017). Gut microbiota’s effect on mental health: The gut-brain axis. Clinics and practice7(4), 987. doi:10.4081/cp.2017.987

[5] “Gastrointestinal Complaints in Children Could Signal Future Mental Health Problem.” ScienceDaily, ScienceDaily, 29 Mar. 2019, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190329171417.htm.

[6] “Social Stress Leads to Changes in Gut Bacteria.” ScienceDaily, ScienceDaily, 8 Mar. 2018, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/03/180308190631.htm.

[7] Surdea-Blaga, T., Băban, A., & Dumitrascu, D. L. (2012). Psychosocial determinants of irritable bowel syndrome. World journal of gastroenterology18(7), 616–626. doi:10.3748/wjg.v18.i7.616