Dr. Josephine Ruiz-HealyThis week we’re kicking off an ongoing series of interviews with noted health care experts who consider good gut health essential in treating a wide variety of health issues.

Our first interview with Dr. Josephine Ruiz-Healy discusses the various gut health benefits probiotics provide children. Dr. Ruiz-Healy is a Clinical Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Texas Health Science Center (UTHSC) at San Antonio. In private practice for two decades in San Antonio, she is Board Certified in Pediatrics and Integrative Holistic Medicine.

A relatively recent trend in American medical circles, integrative medicine focuses on treating the mind, body and spirit – at the same time by using the best of conventional and alternative therapies to facilitate the body’s innate healing responses, naturally and effectively.

Dr. Ruiz-Healy discusses how probiotics, good gut health and other integrative health tips can help babies get started on the right foot, along with avoiding antibiotics as often as possible.

Recent studies have reported mixed results about probiotics being an effective treatment for colic. Have you found probiotics to be helpful?

There has been mixed results in limited studies. The studies themselves show wide variability in their designs and parameters to offer definite results. However, it is a fact that infants with colic have a different intestinal microbiota than their “non-colicky” counterparts. Colicky infants have mainly coliforms that are not well colonized with Lactobacillus.

A different pattern is also seen in babies not colonized at birth who are born via Caesarean section and infants who are not breast-fed. We find the use of probiotics to be beneficial in some of our colicky babies who have these commonalities. Choosing the right probiotic is important. Not all are created equal and they all have different functions.

Multivitamins can cause constipation for some kids. Can probiotics and a healthy diet help?

We try not to use multivitamins that have iron if we do not need to supplement for this deficiency. But, without a doubt, trying to eliminate processed foods and over-cooked foods that indeed change your microbiota and substituting them with foods that have their own healthy biofilm and increasing their water consumption certainly change the microflora.

How do children benefit most from taking a probiotic?

Children are living in a toxic “artificial” environment now. That toxicity is interpreted by many scared parents as “too many germs” and not realizing we are more bacteria than human cells.

We try to eliminate everything that seems “contaminated.” We sterilize our homes but our children attend day cares where they get sick. Also, that illness in many instances is treated with antibiotics regardless if it is warranted or not, and kills the good bacteria in our gut further compromising our immunity.

Probiotics help fill that void we have because of life in the 21st century. A good blend of live probiotics seems essential to protect our kids and help them develop and maintain a healthy immune system.

What does good gut health mean for young children?

Good gut health translates to a good immunity.

There is research ongoing that the microbiota in infants is different for infants who develop allergic diseases, at all system levels. This is influenced by many external factors. We can change some of these factors by keeping, via the adequate mix of probiotics, a healthy gut microbiota.

When do you prescribe a probiotic to a young patient?

We recommend probiotics to infants who are bottle-fed, breast-fed infants whose mothers are on antibiotics or do not plan to breastfeed long, infants entering day care and fussy colicky infants who have no other underlying problems. It is essential children have a healthy gut microbiota before age 2!

Physicians are finally realizing the overprescribing of antibiotics is a serious health problem, although certain conditions require them. How do you advise parents?

Whenever we have children on antibiotics, we recommend probiotics rich in S. boulardi and we recommend they stay on them for at least a month before they change to a different mix of probiotics.

What other integrative health tips can you suggest to parents wanting to bolster their child’s gut health in addition to probiotics?

  • Avoid toxins!
  • Having parents understand that some fever is good for you and it is not a disease, and physicians taking the time to explain why not every time a child gets sick he/she needs antibiotics.
  • Give them vitamins every day.
  • Serve kids at least 6 servings per day of veggies and fruit, because it is the junk and processed foods that hurt them.
  • Decrease milk products.
  • Make kids get outside and play everyday.
  • Do not apply sunblock every time a kid goes outside. Let them get sunblock-free sun for at least 10 minutes.
  • Limit the time playing video games and watching TV.