This post is part of a continuing series, The Top Fifteen Things a New Parent Should Know which was written to the parents of a particular baby boy who has Down syndrome. These are the things I wish I had known from the beginning when my own daughter was born.
Constipation is a gut wrenching problem in our kids. Literally. If you spend any time at all on Down syndrome related forums and email lists, you will see this problem discussed. Yes, we moms actually get on the Internet and talk about poop.
There is a comprehensive collection of parent solutions to constipation elsewhere on this site, so I won’t list them here. Instead, I’ll look at three areas to focus on preventively to keep the gut healthy.
First, a healthy gut is lined with a carpet of microvilli on the ends of the absorptive cells. These tiny tendrils produce enzymes for digestion. A healthy gut hosts billions of friendly bacteria which also digest food, and which form a protective wall against unfriendly bacteria and parasites which attempt to set up residence. These friendly bacteria form an important part of the immune system. Finally, a healthy gut has regular, strong peristalsis, the rhythmic squeezing that moves food through the gut.
Problems in any of these areas are interconnected. If peristalsis is weak, partially digested food remains to feed toxic yeast and unhealthy bacteria, which cause lesions along the length of the gut wall. These unwelcome invaders gradually destroy the microvilli. The unhealthy guts in our kids can have flattened and injured microvilli which cannot produce enzymes. To make matters worse, the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is responsible for peristalsis is manufactured in the gut itself. Poor gut health breeds poor gut health–literally.
We will look here at some reasons our kids end up with damaged guts. Knowledge is power. In order to prevent problems we need to be concious of the roles of serotonin, probiotics, and diet in gut health–and of how these can be compromised in our kids.
The gut is where most of the neurotransmitter serotonin is manufactured. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter responsible for peristalsis. In DS, serotonin has been found to be reduced, which results in poor peristalsis and, yes, constipation. So, in order to protect the gut, you want to insure healthy levels of serotonin in your son.
Most formulas of nutritional supplementation targeted for DS include precursors for serotonin. For example, NuTriVene-D includes L-tryptophan, the amino acid required by the body to manufacture serotonin. Five-hydroxy-tryptophan (5-HTP) is a different over-the-counter supplement that feeds serotonin synthesis.
So, a first step to gut health in Down syndrome is to make sure there is plenty of serotonin.
After dealing with serotonin, a second step is to provide healthy probiotic bacteria to populate the gut wall. Until the last century food preservation and storage involved extensive use of cultured foods. Sauerkraut used to be cultured. Cheese was made with bacteria. Apple cider was cultured into hard cider and vinegar. Every people in the world had ancient food preservation techniques which involved foods filled with friendly bacteria. When a new baby was given these native foods, the baby’s gut received its starter cultures for a lifetime of health.
Nowadays, our foods are sterile. Cheese, cider, sauerkraut and other traditionally cultured foods are pasteurized before sale. Unless we are intentional about it, friendly microbes may may be introduced late or never to our babies’ guts. If I had it to do over again, I would have begun giving my daughter probiotics, sprinkled on her tongue, from her first days of life.
The widespread use of antibiotics is also causing problems. Babies with DS can expect to receive multiple courses of antibiotics in the first years of life. These drugs are not specific; they kill both friendly and unfriendly bacteria. However, they do not kill yeast. This leaves the unfriendly yeast with no resistance to moving in and taking over.
The result of yeast overgrowth can be lesions along the wall of the colon. Through these lesions, partially digested food escapes into the bloodstream, leading to a host of illnesses and allergic reactions.
So, the second step to keeping the gut healthy in DS is to provide plenty of probiotic foods and supplements, and to limit the use of antibiotics. If you must use antibiotics, follow immediately with a course of probiotic supplementation.
The third step to keep the gut healthy is to keep unhealthy yeast and bacteria from taking over. To keep the bad guys away, or to fight them back if they already control the terrain, diet will take a central role.
Realize that yeast feeds on sugars (simple sugars and disaccharides), and partially digested starches. Any serious plan to improve gut health in a child with DS will involve eliminating sugars and refined starches from the diet.
If I had it to do over again, I would not have ever fed my daughter foods containing sugar.
For more information on gut-healthy diets, expecially about how to reverse gut dysbiosis, listen to the downloadable lectures by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride part1 6203.mp3 and part2 6219.mp3. Dr. Campbell-McBride wrote the heavily researched book Gut and Psychology Syndrome to explain the relationship of diet to gut health and many sicknesses, psychological and otherwise.
The long term plan for gut health in a child with Down syndrome will involve careful attention to a probiotic friendly diet.
An Unhealthy Gut is Bad News
Lest you think that gut problems are a minor inconvenience, or that constipation is the only conquence, realize that our nutrition comes from our guts. A child’s unhealthy gut is not absorbing the nutrition in the child’s food. An infected gut is releasing toxins into the bloodstream. Further, unhealthy, inflamed guts are linked to quirky behaviors and psychological disorders from ADD to autism.
There is a growing body of information to suggest that a healthy gut is protective against adverse reactions to vaccines. In the climate of controversy which surrounds vaccines, it is hard to have an unemotional discussion. However, knowing this gut connection gives parents from both sides of the issue something concrete to do to protect our children: get our kids’ guts healthy and keep them that way.