Study Links Gut Bacteria to How Toddlers Behave, Especially Boys

toddler_holding_doorWhat do those terrible twos have to do with gut bacteria? More than parents may think, say researchers from Ohio State University. They recently analyzed stool samples from more than 75 children ages 18 to 27 months and compared them to parent-answered questionnaires about emotional reaction. What they found was that variations in bacterial diversity were strongly linked to differences in behavior and temperament—most notably among boys.

Toddlers whose gut microbes were more diverse were more likely to be curious, social, and happy, while fewer types and numbers of bacteria was associated with signs of stress and fearful behavior, according to findings published in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity. This may have something to do with the relationship between gut flora and stress hormones, say researchers, which can affect both physical and mental health.

“There is substantial evidence that intestinal bacteria interact with stress hormones—the same hormones that have been implicated in chronic illnesses like obesity and asthma,” said study author Lisa Christian. “A toddler’s temperament gives us a good idea of how they react to stress. This information combined with an analysis of their gut microbiome could ultimately help us identify opportunities to prevent chronic health issues earlier.”

Interestingly, the connection between gut bacteria and temperament remained despite factors such as diet, breastfeeding, or how the child was delivered (either vaginally or by C-section)—and that connection was found to be more consistent among males than females. Researchers plan to continue studying the link between gut bacteria and behavior, but their findings are in line with previous studies showing a strong gut-brain connection.

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SAD Truth: More than 60% of Calories from Highly Processed Foods

bag-of-chipsIn light of a new study from the University of North Carolina, the nickname given to the standard American diet—SAD—seems more fitting than ever. That’s because study author Jennifer Poti and her team determined that more than 60% of our total daily calories come from heavily processed foods loaded with unhealthy fats, sugar, and salt.

Researchers looked at grocery purchasing data from more than 157,000 American households, which included over 1 million different products. What they found was that the biggest chunk of calories came from highly processed foods such as pre-packaged meals, refined breads, chips, snacks, desserts, candy, and sugary drinks—all of which have been linked to inflammation, obesity, diabetes, and more.

These findings, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, point out that not all processed foods are bad, since pasteurized milk as well as frozen fruits and veggies undergo minimal processing, but that Americans clearly seem to prefer their highly processed foods—those defined as “multi-ingredient industrial mixtures that are no longer recognizable as their original plant or animal source.”

The bottom line is this: we are consuming nearly 1,000 calories a day from foods that barely even resemble real food, but it is never too late to make smarter choices. Experts suggest cooking more meals at home with simple, fresh ingredients such as poultry, seafood, and non-starchy veggies; swapping unhealthy snacks for low-sugar fruits, plain Greek yogurt, and nuts; and replacing sugary drinks and soda with purified water.

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