The Importance of a Healthy Gut in Children

A child’s gastrointestinal (GI) tract is responsible for digestion, fermentation, absorption of nutrients and excretion of waste and toxins, and contains nearly 80 percent of the immune system. A healthy gut must make adequate hydrochloric acid and other enzymes in order to digest macronutrients. The digestion of proteins is necessary for the creation of brain neurotransmitters involved in mood, learning, memory and focus. Digestion and assimilation of healthy fats is necessary for eye and brain development.

A healthy gut must also have a healthy lining; the barrier between the outside world and the rest of the body. If this lining is inflamed or damaged due to infectious microorganisms or dietary toxins (added sugar, artificial ingredients, preservatives, etc.), symptoms may manifest such as allergies, headaches, abdominal pain or fatigue.

A healthy gut is also necessary for the elimination of toxins that are natural byproducts of metabolism, as well as for environmental toxins that can be acquired through air, water and food. A healthy microbiome—a balance of trillions of bacteria that perform a variety of functions—is also essential for overall health. When detrimental flora outweighs beneficial flora, there can be problems with digestion, immune system function, allergies and even metabolism.

Functional medicine doctors and naturopathic physicians acknowledge the link between digestive function and myriad health issues often missed by mainstream medicine. Stool analysis, food intolerance testing and urinary microbial organic acid testing are just a few tools that can be utilized to discover underlying imbalances of GI health in children and adults.

Leia Anderson, ND, MS, is one of three naturopathic doctors at Natural Paths to Wellness, located at 2601 Gettysburg Rd., in Camp Hill. For more information, call 717-494-4500 or visit

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