Baby Microbiome basics – Part 1

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Reading Time: 9 minutes

We are in an interesting and contradictory world today. One the one hand, the rise of Western science has taken basic hygiene to unimaginable levels. So household products can successfully wipe out every last germ in our clothes or our hands. But on the other hand, this increasingly sterile world has many fall outs. Our immunity levels are lower than what they used to be and our children are weaker, less healthy and perpetually fall sick. How do we balance this seeming contraindication? This is the first in Krya’s 3 part series on the Baby microbiome. This series will explain the current body of research on the Baby microbiome, share Ayurvedic insights on the same and leave you with solid recommendations to boost baby’s immunity and health.

Baby microbiome basics: a highly sanitised world is creating new health complications for us.

Joshua Lederberg first coined the term “Microbiota” to distinguish the bacteria that colonize, populate and symbiotically live on us. The current world view lies in seeing ourselves as separate from the “germs or bacteria” that live on us, and treat them as opportunistic parasites that feed off us and have to be therefore be removed or eradicate.

However the growing body of research is instead choosing to view human beings and indeed living beings as the “Holobiont”. The Holobiont is the host body + all the associated micro organisms that co-exist and live on the body of the host. The Holobiont is being postulated as the evolutionary edge for living organisms and species: and it is the composition of Microbiota AND host organism that presents the unique evolutionary edge and not the host body alone.

The Human Microbiota includes fungi, bacteria and archea. This does not include opportunistic micro animals like head lice which weaken the Holobiont and are purely parasitic. Research indicates that the human Holobiont is made up of 37 trillion cells: of these ¾ belong to our Human Microbiota, and only ¼ of these 37 trillion cells are contributed directly by us.

Baby Microbiome basics: Microbiota colonise us throughout the body

How a healthy colony of micro flora helps keep us strong & healthy

On a cell to cell comparison, we are more Micro flora than human. Our body is made up of cells of which the human part is only 10%. The balance 90% is our microbiome which colonizes various parts of us: our skin, nose, ears, reproductive organs and inside our body. Each area of our body has different species of micro flora. Microflora form a unique fingerprint for each of us: our colonies are not exactly the same, even for twins born and raised together.

A large portion of our microbiome lives in our gut. This colony decides many things about our health. They decide how healthy we are going to be and how much immunity we have. It defends us against invasive and predatory micro organisms. They help our body with digestion, assimilation and nutrient absorption. Our friendly Microbiota also boosts our brain function and helps mood regulation as well.

Baby microbiome basics: teh quality of your microbiota determine the nutrient absorption from your food

The human body hosts different sets of colonies in various parts of the body. Every set of microbes has its own role to play, depending on where they live. The oral microbiome acts as a gatekeeper, guarding what enters the GI tract. If the colony in your mouth is in good health and shape, they can block the entry of potentially invasive organisms into our body.

On skin, the microbiome forms a very important gatekeeper role as well. The skin micro flora prevents entry of predators into the blood and lymph. These predators if allowed, can cause huge harm as they can bypass our acid containing gut and enter the circulatory system directly , through which they can spread rapidly.

Baby microbiome basics: Skin hosts innumerable microflora that imporves immunity and protects health

The skin microbiome helps guard this, if we take care to ensure our skin microbiome population is not unnecessary washed away. The human microbiome also bring down small inflammations in the body, help produce vitamins and digestive enzymes. In short , they support and extend healthy life for us. This is an example of a symbiotic and synergistic partnership.

 

Why is a healthy microbiome critical in a baby?

Human babies are born vulnerable and helpless. Their microbial colony begins to be established during pregnancy, and continues well until they are around 3 – 4 years. The successful establishment of a healthy microbial colony depends upon many factors. These include the health of the mother, the mode of delivery of the baby, feeding choices, weaning food choices, and the availability of a healthy microbiome colony in the baby’s surroundings. Some of our choices can also destroy a healthy available microbiome , for example the choice to raise baby in over sanitary surroundings.

The GI tract of the baby is especially unformed and vulnerable in the first 6 months. For example, in the first 6 months, a baby’s intestinal tract has spaces between the intestinal cells. This gap is filled as the baby grows. But in the first 6 months, the baby’s gut flora microbiome plug these intestinal gaps themselves. If these gaps are not properly plugged, undesirable molecules and invaders can squeeze through the intestine and directly enter the baby’s bloodstream.

Baby microbiome basics: healthy microflora reduces baby's vulnerability to disease

It is safe to say that the baby’s first 3 years sets the foundation for the future health and well being of the baby. Our choices as parents can greatly impact the health and well being of our child, way into the future. This is why we are writing this series on the Krya blog this week.

Our posts this week in this series will discuss the stages of microbial colonization in the baby and some choices you can make to provide positive intervention at each stage. We will also discuss various do’s and don’t s and how Ayurveda tells us to raise baby and improve immunity. However, until the next 2 posts, here are 3 thought-starters we would like to end this post with. Each of these will impact your baby’s microbiome and therefore her health.

3 baby microbiome thought-starters:

Give baby plenty of thoughtful skin to skin contact with skin that is not over-sanitized:

Microbiome colonies spread from living organisms. So Ayurveda encourages thoughtful, selective skin to skin contact in young infants. Our microbial colonies are incredibly selective and unique. For example your right hand and left hand host a different microbial signature! For these colonies to be healthy and survive, we must ensure their surroundings are healthy as well. In an over sanitary environment, we kill off all our good bacteria – instead these environments breed super-bugs and very dangerous predators, which can thrive in this environment.

Ayurveda recommends that baby be handled and touched by the Mother and one –two selectively chosen caregivers.

Baby microbiome basics: thoughtful loving skin contact improves healthy microflora

The mother and “Dhatri” (nurse or additional caregiver or a nanny), must use the correct Ayurvedic herbs to bathe in. The Nursery must be kept well ventilated, yet cosy and facing in the right direction. Baby’s linen must be washed with Rakshoghna herbs.

Baby microbiome basics: Mother an dDhatri should bathe in rakshogha herbs and wash all linen with these. This helps spread good quality microflora

In this environment, the use of these herbs keeps down the spread of dangerous micro organisms. This gives healthy Microbiota a chance to flourish. So, when baby is touched and handled lovingly by such caregivers, the healthy Microbiota are transferred onto baby’s skin and can colonize it.

If the Mother is breastfeeding, Ayurveda recommends proper cleansing of the breasts and mother’s skin with warming, vata pacifying, Rakshoghna herbs. When this is done, the baby absorbs the right micro flora through mouth-to-skin contact during breastfeeding.

Avoid: Cleansing mother’s skin and baby’s skin with a synthetic soap or bodywash. This wipes out all the friendly colonies of bacteria, leaving baby vulnerable to infection and disease. Use a completely natural grain and herb based Ayurvedic ubtan instead.

Reduction of electronic stress and other stress around mother & baby:

One of the key impediments to the growth of friendly bacteria is stress. When we are stressed, the pitta dosha in the body increases. This creates a high heat and acidic medicum in the body. This tends to reduce our gut bacterial colony. Also, the nature of skin and scalp secretions change in high Pitta conditions. Sweat becomes much more acidic, foul smelling and the composition of sebum also changes. This again brings down growth of friendly bacteria and instead attracts unhealthy organisms.

Baby microbiome basics: high stress impacts the quality of microflora

High use of electronic devices like Mobile, Wi-Fi, I-Pads, etc, increase subtle Vata vibrations in the air. This changes the dosha balance in the body, again leading to an unhealthy condition. Subtle electronic vibrations also thrown off our sleep cycles. When sleep is disturbed, our Microbiota are also harmed.

If the Mother is stressed, her bacterial colony is affected. Which in turn affects the baby. So Ayurveda advises a time of rest, reduction in physical work and focus on the Mother at least in the first 6 months after delivery. If this is extended upto one year this is ideal.

This post is not meant to discourage working mothers or criticize them for their choices. But, we echo Ayurveda’s emphasis on the important of rest and recovery for mothers. If this period is adhered to, we can avoid many health issues that may crop up later.

Fresh, organic home made food

Ayurveda tells us that all health begins in our gut. All Disease can be traced back to overloading the digestive system, eating improper food combinations and at the wrong timing. At the time many of the original texts were written, here was no practice of chemical farming followed. So obviously we have no explicit mentions of pesticide grown food.

But from all the available research today, we know how toxic , eating chemically farmed food is. From the Microbiome perspective, this is like consuming frequent doses of poison to the system. This harms everything in the body including your Micro biota.

For a breast feeding mother, eating fresh, organic, seasonal, home made food promotes better nutrient absorption and produce better quality breast milk as well.

Baby microbiome basics: high quality organic seasonal food boosts healthy microbiota

Also, seasonally grown organic produce has a healthier colony of micro flora. So when we handle and cook this produce, we are enriching our own bacterial colony.

To sum up:

Through this post, we hoped to provide you a glimpse of the fascinating world that lies on our skin and in our bodies. It is not an exaggeration to say that without friendly Microbiota, human life would not exist.

Conserving, nurturing and protecting our friendly Microbiome becomes even more critical in babies. Babies’ microbiome is under developed and the choices we make for them in the first 3 years of their life has long lasting impact on their health and their Microbiota.

We also looked at 3 simple methods you can start with to encourage proper colonization of Micro biota in baby. In our next 2 posts, we will look at Microbiota colonization in baby stage by stage and also explore Ayurvedic interventions in each stage to strengthen baby’s micro biota. Stay tuned.

Krya Products recommended to encourage healthy skin colonization in Babies and Moms:

For Moms:

  • Strongly recommended: Krya Women’s Abhyanga system (Krya Women’s Ubtan + Krya Abhyanga oil) – helps balance vata dosha and encourages the growth of friendly Microbiota while discouraging predatory microbes

Krya Products Recommended for Baby:

  • Krya baby ubtans & bodywashes – made from organic or forest collected herbs, grains and lentils . Cleans thoroughly yet is extremely soothing and gentle on baby’s skin. Can be used everyday from the 1st day of baby’s birth.
  • Krya baby massage oils – made using authentic ayurvedic herbs, and organic cold pressed vegetable oils processed through a rigorous ayurvedic manufacturing process. Can be used from the time a baby is 1 week old
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Flowing Kapha, Warming Ginger : Ayurvedic tips to stay Healthy in Spring

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Reading Time: 8 minutes

Our series this week focuses on 5 common health issues that trouble people who live in urban environments. Today’s post gives you Ayurvedic tips to stay healthy in Spring (Vasanta).  We wrote yesterday on Computer vision syndrome, a common problem caused due to over straining of the eyes.

Preventive health care and staying healthy across seasons:

Ayurveda’s goal is to prevent the formation of disease by following certain guidelines of good living. This is best described by Acharya Charaka in his Sutra Sthana shlokas:

“Swasthasya Swasthya Rakshanam Aaturasya Vikara Prashamanam Cha”

He explains that the goal of medicine (Ayurveda) is to rejuvenate and preserve the health of the healthy and then to alleviate diseases in the ill. This order of first  tending to the healthy and then  treating the sick is specific to Ayurveda. It explains why so much of Ayurveda is primarily focused on health giving regimens rather than disease treatment .

This emphasis on preserving health is why Dincharya and Ritucharya regimes (regimes for daily living and special regimes to follow in specific seasons) come first in all 3 Brihat Trayee texts of Ayurveda (Charaka Samhita, Sushruta Samhita and Ashtanga Hridayam).

Ritucharya: seasonal regimens to stay healthy

Dincharya comprises of regimens to be followed daily. These include waking up at the right time (Brahma Muhurtha), doing Vyayama (exercise), Oral care, Taila abhyanga , Snana (bath) and leading a life of balance. When these tenets of Dincharya are followed, we are guaranteed a life of harmony and balance.

Staying healthy in Spring: Dinacharya is a daily set of practices to stay healthy.
The seasonal health regimens form a part of Ritucharya (seasonal tenets of living). Ayurveda divides the year into 6 seasons. Each season lasts roughly two months. The time of change of seasons usually throws the body into a series of minor health issues, which can be avoided if we know what is to be done.

Staying healthy in Spring: What happens to us in Winter?

During winter (Hemanta and Shishira) , the severe cold weather drives Agni inwards from all parts of the body. This strongly increases our digestive capacity and hunger. So we are asked to eat well and eat oily, rich foods that can satisfy this high Agni, in Winter.

Staying healthy in Spring: We are advised to eat heavy, rich food in winter to satisfy increased agni in the body.
At the same time, we are asked to exercise well, sun bathe, do brisk abhyanga and avoid being lazy, sleeping during the day, etc.

Staying healthy in Spring: What happens to us in Spring?

Vasanta is the spring season described in Ayurveda. The official start of Vasanta is marked by the festival of Holi.

Staying healthy in Spring: spring starts with Holi

In Vasanta, as the climate again starts to become warm, the sun rays melt all the Kapha that has been stored in our body during winter. So we have liquefied excess Kapha / Mucous moving through our body . This explains why so many of us are prone to spring fever, hay fever, pollen allergies and coughs and colds in this season.

Staying healthy in Spring: Kapha liquifies through the body and flows leading to coughs, colds and seasonal allergies
The liquefied Kapha dosha, if aggravated can douse the digestive Agni. So our appetite will not be as strong as what it was in winter, if we leave this unchecked. So to stay healthy in Spring, we need to work on this liquiefied Kapha.

Ayurvedic therapies to stay healthy in Spring :

Vamana therapy (a part of Pancha karma) and Nasya therapy (application of nasal drops) are 2 Ayurvedic procedures that can be initiated by Vaidyas during Vasanta to remove aggravated Kapha dosha.

This is advised if you have Spring aggravation symptoms like severe mucous accumulation, pollen allergy, extreme lethargy, lack of energy etc. For many of us, this may not be required. So the Acharyas have given us many milder suggestions that we can all do to dry out liquefied kapha.

Staying healthy in spring: correction routines

The right diet for Spring:

Ayurveda advises us to avoid Guru (heavy), Snigdha (oily), Amla (sour) and Madhura (sweet) foods during this season.

Staying healthy in Spring: Avoid sweet, rich and heavy food that can aggravate Kapha dosha
Heavy and sweet foods increase Kapha dosha accumulation in the body. Snigdha and Amla foods aggravate qualities of Pitta, which will further liquefy Kapha causing even more flowing mucous in the body.

This is a good time to add Millets to our diet in small quantities. Millets are Laghu (light) and Rooksha (drying) so their addition can help absorb and dry out liquefied Kapha. Similarly, Yava (barley) is considered a good grain to be eaten during Vasanta. Yava has the property of removing excess watery Mala (toxins) through a diuretic action, so it is useful at this time.

Staying healthy in Spring: Eat drying, slightly astringent food with healing spices
This is also a good time to use spices like Haridra (Turmeric), Sounth (dried Ginger), Clove, Elaichi and Maricha (Black pepper) in the food. Haridra is astringent and drying, and will help absorb excess liquids in the body. Dried Ginger is warm without aggravating Pitta, so can be safely used to spice food. Similarly cloves and cardamom are both warming without aggravating Pitta dosha. Maricha is always recommended in Ayurveda to aid digestion and open up the srotas over red and green Chillies, which are considered teekshna (intense) and Pitta aggravating. Making these minor diet corrections will help remove liquiefied kapha, prevent toxin deposition and help us stay healthy in spring.

Staying healthy in Spring: use drying, warming spices to dry up aggravated Kapha

 

Staying healthy in Spring: Right physical exercise

Vasanta is also a good time for physical exercise. We are advised to do it at a slightly lower level than we would have during winter. The main purpose during exercise in Vasanta is to increase heat and provoke sweating in the body, to encourage drying and removal of excess Kapha dosha.

Staying healthy in Spring: Regular physical activity removes aggravated Kapha
The Acharyas encourage us to spend time in the company of good friends and in Nature. Vasanta is the season where birds abound, and when Nature is lush and green with the profuse flowering of fragrant herbs and flowers. We are advised to picnic in gardens, visit river banks, and enjoy the season in pleasant hill stations.

Staying healthy in Spring: drink the right warming drinks

Ayurveda does not universally advise to drink tea or coffee due to their many disturbing qualities. Instead, we are asked to sip specific, herbal warm drinks in Vasanta to aid expelling of liquid kapha. We can sip plain warm water, or water which has been boiled mildly with dried ginger powder (in cases of aggravated mucous).  Do not drink too much Ginger water as it can heat up the body in large amounts.

You can sip 1 glass of warm ginger water per day, for a few days at a time, to help move aggravated Kapha out of the body.

Staying healthy in Spring:  Spices like dried ginger help remove aggravated kapha in spring


A Spring health recipe: How to make Dried Ginger water:

Boil one glass of water until the water comes to a rolling boil. Switch off the gas. Add 1 teaspoon of freshly ground dried ginger powder. Allow the herb to steep for 4 – 5 minutes into the water. Strain. Sip through the day.

Modified Taila Abhyanga with Mardana:

Taila abhyanga with emphasis on “Mardana” is a good practice in Vasanta. The right taila should be chosen which is warming and mala removing and not cooling.

The practice of Mardana or strong pressure filled kneading of limbs is recommended during Vasanta.  Mardana forces liquefied Kapha through the body and out of it. This ensures that excess Kapha does not cool inside the body and create blockages. The limbs should be squeezed in a downward direction and not in an upward direction. This is an excellent practice to remove fatigue and lethargy caused by aggravated Kapha and helps your maintain health in spring.

Staying healthy in Spring: Taila Abhyanga and Mardana are recommended

Modified Snana (bath) with astringent herbs :

Snana is to be taken with pitta and kapha pacifying, slightly astringent and rooksha herbs. The choice of rooksha herbs is to help dry up excess Kapha. The choice of astringent is to deal with vitiated Pitta. This way we can avoid the oily pus filled breakouts, prickly heat and allergic skin conditions that are common in Vasantha.

Application of these astringent herbs on skin as a paste, helps open the minor Srotas and helps in removal of mala through the body. It also enhances circulation and ensures liquefied Kapha does not get solid and block the minor channels.

Staying healthy in Spring: Snana is to be done with astringent, drying herbs

Some Snana options available at Krya are given below.

Snana options at Krya for Vasantha (Spring):

  1. Krya Women’s Ubtan (best for Snana after Taila Abhyanga) – made with astringent and Kapha reducing grains and herbs like Heritage Black horsegram, Rooksha and skin healing herbs like Vana Haridra, Daru haridra, and Sweet basil and Pitta pacifying, skin improving herbs like Vetiver, Vilwa Leaf, and Khadira.12. womens ubtan
  2. Krya Classic Bodywash (suits normal – oily skin on Non Taila Abhyanga days) – made with astringent and Kapha reducing grains and herbs like our herbal skin decoction charged Heritage Whole Mung bean, Rooksha and skin healing herbs like Rosemary, Triphala & Zeodary and Pitta pacifying, skin improving herbs like Manjishta, Mushta & Arjuna.
  3. Krya Moisture Plus Bodywash (suits normal – dry skin on Non Taila Abhyanga days) – made with astringent and Kapha reducing grains and herbs like Tavakshir and Heritage Whole Mung bean, Rooksha and skin healing herbs like Kushta, Amla & Moringa and Pitta pacifying, skin improving herbs like Durva, Neem flower & Manjishta.
  4. Krya Sensitive Bodywash for Adults (for skin that is prone to eczema and Psoriasis)
  5. Krya Men’s Ubtan (best for Snana after Taila Abhyanga) – made with astringent and Kapha reducing grains and herbs like Heritage White horsegram and Pink Masoor bean, Rooksha and skin healing herbs like Cassia Leaf, Brahmi, and Indian Borage and Pitta pacifying, skin improving herbs like Indian sarsaparilla, Guduchi, and Yashtimadhu.
  6. Krya Men’s Bodywash: (suits normal – oily skin on Non Taila Abhyanga days) – made with astringent and Kapha reducing grains and herbs like our herbal skin decoction charged Heritage Whole Mung bean, Rooksha and skin healing herbs like Cassia Leaf, Lemongrass & Kushta and Pitta pacifying, skin improving herbs like Peppermint, Vetiver & Lodhra.12. mens bodywash

 

To conclude:

The emphasis in Ayurveda is always on following a life of balance and moderation, along with carefully chosen , sensible, health giving practices. When we follow this method, we are guaranteed both Ayu and Ayush (long life and health) as per our Acharyas.

Many of the problems we face as we live our busy and chaotic lives in cities is because we are unable to balance the excesses we face. So we end up over using our eyes, over commuting, eating the wrong kind of food, and ignoring what we must be doing in each season.

Skin and hair care are not just superficial subjects. Our skin and hair reflects the inner state of health and well being, so only if we solve our deeper issues, can our external appearance be good.

We hope this post gave you an idea of how you stay healthy in Spring.  If you have any doubts in the above, please do drop a comment or write to us.

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