Did you know that the combination of microorganisms that make up your gut flora is similar to a fingerprint? The collection of gut bacteria in every individual body is unique, and it’s a result of your genetics, your upbringing, and your lifestyle. But gut flora doesn’t stay the same over time, it’s actually affected by how we live and where we are in life – that’s why we need to take care of it in different ways.
Birth – the first years
Babies inherit some of their mother’s bacteria at birth, and these lay the foundations for the child’s own bacterial flora. Afterwards, the child’s gut flora is built up through breast milk, skin contact with the mother and other close family members, as well as through the environments that the child spends time in. In parallel to this, the immune and digestive systems also develop, both of which are closely connected to the gut flora.
Introduction of solid food
The build-up of gut flora gets a real boost when the child starts eating foods other than breast milk. This often coincides with increased contact with new people and environments, which are important for both the development of the gut flora and for social interaction. When contact with other people increases, in particular other children, the immune system is exposed to new bacteria and infections, which is necessary for the child to build up a strong immune system.
The gut flora is stabilised
At around 3-4 years of age, the gut flora’s composition starts to stabilise – but exposure to new bacteria is still important. Continued development of the gut flora can be supported by the child spending time outdoors and eating as varied a diet as possible. Meeting new people and animals and experiencing new environments can also be beneficial to the diversity of the gut flora. For example, it’s been shown that children that grow up with pets have a greater diversity of bacteria in their gut flora.
Teenage – young adult
Teenagers and young adults generally tend to live erratic lives, and health is unlikely to be at the top of their list of priorities. But, if we manage to create healthy habits during this time, it will be easier to maintain a stable gut flora later in life. A varied diet consisting mostly of plant fibre gives energy to the good gut bacteria and helps them to feel at home in the gut. Trying to create good routines at this stage for regular exercise, proper sleep, and healthy stress management will also contribute towards a more healthy gut flora and better health in general.
As an adult, the focus is on maintaining good habits. At the same time, you should also be prepared for fluctuations in the gut flora, and it can be worth having a strategy for dealing with any eventual imbalances. For example, things like antibiotic treatments, exposure to new bacteria on foreign trips, as well as longer periods of stress or a diet that’s low in fibre can lead to an imbalance occurring in the gut flora. This can, in turn, cause both stomach problems and low grade inflammation, which in turn can lead to further health problems later in life. In case of imbalances, it’s important to return to a healthy diet and lifestyle, but you can also get a little help along the way, for example with a synbiotic supplement that contains good bacteria and fibre.
Around 60 years of age, the diversity of your gut flora begins to gradually decrease. There’s also a decrease in the number of beneficial short chain fatty acids that are produced when the gut bacteria digests fibres. This means that the danger of an imbalance in the gut flora increases as we get older, since there’s a smaller amount of good bacteria. To compensate for this, it’s important to exercise regularly, make sure you get enough sleep and recovery time, and to make sure your diet is both varied and rich in natural plant fibres.
Dietary supplements – Synbiotics
A synbiotic dietary supplement – such as Super Synbiotics – can be used throughout your life, as it adds extra healthy bacteria and fibres to your gut flora. For children, a half dose can be enough per day, but older children and young adults can enjoy the benefits of a full dose per day. When the body is exposed to unusual stresses and strains, it can be beneficial to take a stronger dose – for example, with a course of antibiotics, during stressful times, or similar situations.