The Ages and Stages of Gut Health + A Self-care Massage
When it comes to learning about gut health, and how to give your digestive system what it needs, it’s helpful to understand how a healthy gut microbiome is formed. The human gut microbiome, which comprises of an extremely diverse and complex community of microorganisms inhabiting the intestinal tract, keeps on fluctuating during different stages of life1.
Before birth we’re all more or less sterile — we have little to no microbes, however, some recent studies report the presence of bacteria in placenta, amniotic cavity, umbilical cord, and meconium have suggested that the dynamic and complex process of infant microbiota colonisation may have already started in-utero2.
Within a few years, we’re covered in thousands of different species of microbes colonising every millimetre of our body that is exposed to the outside world. By the time we start school, we have vastly different populations living in the different habitats around our bodies. Even as adults and into old age, our microbiota continues to shift.
Birth and Infancy
Within the womb, you were living in the sterile environment of amniotic fluid. In a vaginal birth, a baby’s nasal passages, eyes and skin are colonised with the mother’s bacteria, forming the beginning of the baby’s immune system. When a newborn begins to feed from the breast, the unique oligosaccharides contained in this miraculous milk pass through the baby’s small intestine unharmed, landing in the large intestine, where they literally feed the initial seeding of the mother’s bacteria imparted during birth, initiating the wonderful beginning of the child’s microbiome.
Microbial populations shift and change a lot during early childhood. There’s also much variation among individuals, depending upon whether they’ve been breast or formula fed, the diet they’re introduced to, and if they’ve been given antibiotics as a result of the array of childhood illnesses that come in the early years of life. For all these reasons, variation of microbes in the gut is highest during childhood.
There’s growing recognition that the microbiome is directly linked to infant and childhood development and immunity. For example, it’s now known that the use of antibiotics, especially in the first 12 months of life, creates significant decreases in the number of Bifidobacterium and Bacteroides, and a reduced bacterial diversity, which is important for a robust immune system3. Avoiding antibiotics where possible, replenishing and supporting diversity through child-appropriate probiotics and having a good diet with fermented foods is important for building a strong gut and immune system to support future life stages.
As children grow into teenagers and young adults, they become more independent about their food and lifestyle choices — relying primarily on their amygdala (the emotional, impulsive part of the brain) before their brain reaches full maturity in their mid-20s. Teens and adolescents may choose unhealthy processed and sugar-laden foods, or experiment with alcohol and drugs, all of which have negative effects on the microbiome.
Eating too many grains, sugars and processed foods serves as a ‘feast’ for pathogenic microorganisms and yeasts, causing them to multiply rapidly. As the healthy balance of species is altered, this can lead to digestive issues, nutrient deficiencies, lowered immunity and even behavioural and mental health issues, as healthy vagus nerve communication to the brain is compromised. Helping our young people by limiting their access to heavily processed foods, and nourishing them with real foods, will go a long way towards nurturing their microbiome, and influencing them to pursue a healthy lifestyle into their future.
The working years
After a young person leaves home, independence is in full motion. They enter the world of work or study, find employment, perhaps become a spouse, begin a family, encounter mortgage and financial stresses, and experience the busiest season of life.
Stress plays a major role in gut health. It has been shown that different types of psychological stress — including maternal separation, chronic social distress, restraint conditions, crowding, heat stress and acoustic stress — can alter the composition of the gastrointestinal microbiota; and likewise, an unhealthy diversity of bacteria can impact on emotional behaviour and stress response4. The specific microbial diversity present in healthy adult subjects plays an important role in maintaining immune homeostasis. This links with the fact that microbiota alterations are related to gut-related diseases5.
If an adult hasn’t inherited healthy eating habits from their family or community, chances are that in this time of life, they’ll choose the convenience of processed food, which is detrimental for the microbiome. Modern processed foods can be difficult to digest, placing a burden on the gut. Gut permeability is a classic symptom emerging in these years if the gut hasn’t been looked after with proper diet and lifestyle; others include autoimmune conditions, new allergies, depression, anxiety and recurrent colds and flus. Estimated to comprise trillions of microbes— together possessing 100 times the number of genes in the human genome — it’s no wonder the state of an adult’s microbiome can influence so many aspects of their physiology and health.
The state of our microbiome in the older years may be a big key to how well we age, and our resistance to illness and degenerative disease. Studies have shown an association between microbial diversity and the functional independence of elderly individuals. Reduced microbial diversity has been correlated with decreased dietary diversity, increased physical frailty, raised levels of inflammatory markers, and the occurrence of cancers and digestive and atherosclerotic diseases. Elderly people living in the community have been found to have the most diverse microbiota and have more robust health than those in short- or long-term residential care6.
Taking special care to nourish or restore the microbiome of older adults holds promise as an innovative strategy that may help slow down the development of illnesses associated with ageing. Strategies to treat conditions associated with a disrupted gut microbial ecology and inflammation in adults also represent important areas of future research7.
A self-care massage to nourish your gut
A lovely and simple way to nourish and look after your gut is with a self-care massage. I’d love to introduce you to a simple hands-on gut massage that you can try at home, to help you cope more successfully in times of stress, particularly if you hold tension in your stomach. This tension you may notice will show up in symptoms such as cramping, distension, or indigestion.
We all love massages. And so does our gut. Massaging your tummy before and after meals is therapeutic in so many ways – physically, mentally, spiritually, and even digestively!
For gut friendly recipes and support visit www.superchargedfood.com
OnePath Life Limited (OnePath Life) is committed to deliver market leading mental health and wellness solutions with a focus on service, customer wellness and prevention. The focus on mental health and wellness is at the core to OnePath Life’s proposition. To deliver on our commitment, we have developed a suite of tools, education pieces, and collaborated with partners to provide our customers with the support they may need to facilitate a healthy life. OnePath Life has proudly partnered with Lee Holmes to provide education and nutritional inspiration for our customers to supercharge their health.
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