28. Feb 2019

Children and their immune system

The build-up of a child’s defence system already begins in the mother’s womb: the development of the baby’s intestinal flora influences the later risk of contracting a disease.

Not only the genes that are handed down by parents to their children determine the development of the immune system. The embryo’s immune system already takes shape in the mother’s womb because it encounters antibodies against certain pathogenic agents via the mother’s blood. The mother’s intestinal flora also seems to have an effect on the development of the child’s defence system: There are studies that show that the intestinal bacteria of the mother mould the baby’s immune system. Children have a lower risk of developing neurodermatitis if the mother takes wholesome bacteria in the form of probiotics during the last month of pregnancy and if the treatment is continued for baby’s first 6 months of life.

Breast milk gives a head start

Even the way a baby is delivered determines which bacteria settle down in the intestine. The baby can’t come into contact with the bacteria of the mother’s birth canal if it is delivered by C-section. This leads to a lack of diversity of microorganisms in the baby’s intestine and with it a lack of helpful lactic acid bacteria and bifidobacteria. Breastfeeding can help regain balance because breast milk is rich in bifidobacteria. This can lower the risk of infections and diarrhoea.

The protective function of breastfeeding can even be improved if the mother takes additional probiotics. The different strains of bacteria activate the baby’s digestion, help the body’s own production of vitamins and prevent pathogenic bacteria from spreading. The bacterial kingdom in a baby’s intestine, however, can easily be thrown off balance: for example, if it is treated with antibiotics. The intestinal flora is especially sensitive during a baby’s first two years.

Intestinal flora and immune system

If the intestinal flora – and therefore also the immune system – isn’t properly developed, the likelihood of developing asthma, allergies and autoimmune diseases such as Typ-1 Diabetes rises. The number of people suffering from allergies in the western world is growing continuously. As an explanation, scientists have developed the following hygiene hypothesis: excessive cleanliness leads to an overreaction of the immune system. It then attacks, for example, completely harmless substances such as pollen or dust mites. Countless studies have already proven that children, who grow up on a farm, have a stronger immune system. They seldom develop asthma or hay fever. Therefore, parents can do their children a world of good if they let their children come into contact with animals from an early age and play out in the open as often as possible.

 
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