|Children must be taught to take care of their cleanliness, but excessively high hygiene standards could hamper the body’s ability to build resistence towards diseases.
Two-year-old Zack loves to play in the garden. He particularly likes to scoop sand with his hands, which annoys his mother who doesn’t like him to be dirty. In fact, she is stringent with hygiene and constantly disinfects furniture and things in the house to rid them of germs.
No germs, no stimulus
Cleanliness is important but obsession with a germ-free environment for children may not be advisable. According to the book Hygiene Hypothesis, a germ-free environment will deprive young children of exposure to potentially harmful bacteria that can stimulate their intestinal immune system towards maturity. As a result, there is an imbalance in the child’s immune responses that could lead to development of allergic diseases.
On the other hand, you should maintain high standards of hygiene to prevent infectious diseases.
So how can we help children develop their immune system?
This is where another type of bacteria comes in to correct the imbalance in the immune system mentioned earlier. Known as probiotics, these beneficial bacteria stimulate and train a kid’s intestinal immune system without causing him to fall ill.
Besides being involved in digestion, the gut is also an immune organ. In fact, it is our largest immune organ. Inside the gut, there live about 100 trillion bacteria, both beneficial and harmful ones.
In a healthy child, the beneficial bacteria will outnumber the harmful ones. One of the “resident” beneficial or probiotic bacteria belongs to the Bifidobacteria family, which plays an important role in immunity.
An interesting difference discovered between two-year-old children who have allergies and those who do not, is the composition of bacteria in their gut. The allergic children had less Bifidobacteria in their gut compared to the non-allergic kids.
Bifidobacteria stimulate the production of a protective antibody called immunoglobulin A (IgA) in the gut. IgA helps to eliminate harmful microorganisms and antigens (foreign matters that trigger allergy) from the gut. This reduces the child’s risk of developing allergy.
Many studies have been carried out using probiotics, and their results are encouraging. Studies have found that probiotics help in the management of cow’s milk allergy in young children, and also in reducing the risk of developing eczema.
Now that you know probiotics play a key role in building children’s immunity against allergies, you would naturally want to find ways of ensuring a good presence of probiotics in your child’s gut.
Mother’s protective milk
A good way of providing probiotics is by breastfeeding your child. Breast milk contains probiotic bacteria, particularly from the Bifidobacteria family. Breastfeeding has a positive effect in preventing allergy, such as food allergies and also atopic dermatitis and respiratory allergies that appear only in later life.
For mothers who cannot breastfeed due to medical reasons, probiotics are added to certain partially hydrolysed protein-based formula, which is actually cow’s milk where its protein has been modified with enzymes and heat-treated to reduce its allergic potential.
Probiotics are tiny but their contribution towards building up immunity is no small matter. Clearly, these beneficial bacteria have much to offer when made a part of your child’s natural immune kit.
Article courtesy of the Malaysian Society of Allergy & Immunology (MSAI). For more details or information on allergy, visit allergymsai.org or xyzofallergy.org.
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