Child in digestive distress

Is your growing up child grumpy? Don’t ignore it as it maybe due to digestive discomforts! In fact, 1 out of 3 children may experience symptoms of digestive discomfort1. This includes tummy aches or cramps, bloated feeling, gassiness (marked by burping/farting which is also known as “wind” in some cultures), or watery stools.

Digestion and Your Kid’s Growth and Development

It is a fact that digestion affects the availability of nutrients and looking into your child’s digestion issues may point you to what your kid takes. Since growing up milk is a supplement in children’s nutrition, it is possible that the nutrients in milk such as protein and lactose are the culprits of the digestive issues2,3 that he or she is experiencing.

Here are some fast facts on protein and lactose to help you understand how important these nutrients are in the growth and development of kids.

Protein is made up of amino acids that are used for the physical structure of our muscles, bones and organs and also as components of red blood cells, hormones and enzymes that are important for our body to work efficiently.4

 

Lactose is not only a source of energy, it also enhances the absorption of calcium and magnesium5 that help build strong bones and teeth. In addition, its prebiotic effects can stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria in the digestive system.3

 

How Undigested Protein and Lactose Cause Digestive Discomfort Among Children?

Lactose

The lactose nutrient in milk is broken down by lactase enzymes into the simple sugars, glucose and galactose, which are absorbed in the small intestine for our body’s use as fuel or energy.5 When the lactase enzyme level is low, lactose maldigestion (incomplete breakdown) occurs and undigested lactose goes to the large intestines, where it is fermented by bacteria. The byproducts of bacterial fermentation are acids and gases, which cause digestive discomfort such as gassiness, bloated feelings, tummy aches and watery stools.6

Protein

Just like lactose, protein is digested into smaller size by enzyme called enterokinase7. This smaller size protein can then be absorbed by the body. In cases where enterokinase is lacking, there can be severe malabsorption (failure in absorption) and may result in diarrhea, poor growth, low blood protein level and swelling/edema.2

It’s important to note that a good digestive system will lead to good digestion that can impact your child’s growth and development. As such, you probably wouldn't want to ignore these digestive issues anymore. Thanks to advances in paediatric nutrition technology, growing up milk that is formulated with easy to digest protein and lowered lactose is now made available to help support your child’s digestion.

A Child's Digestive System May Not Be Fully Developed

A complex interplay of different factors such as food habits, genes, sex, state of health, age and the maturity of the gut contribute to the differing functionality between kids’ and adults’ digestive systems.8 For example, humans have the ability to digest the lactose in milk, but lactose-digestion abilities of some children can reduce as they grow older.9 Protein malabsorption may also occur due to some disruption in the digestive process.10 Some children may therefore shy from milk when they experience digestive discomfort such as gassiness, bloated feelings, tummy aches and watery stools.9,11

Supporting Children's Digestion

Milk or dairy foods are important food sources for children. However if kids avoid these due to digestive discomfort they can lose out on proteins, lactose and other nutrients that are important for their growth and development.11,12 Parents have a key role in supporting good digestion by noting the symptoms that their kids experience. Furthermore, they can consider low lactose products and partially hydrolyzed proteins that are easy on kids’ digestion. Digestive discomfort symptoms may be avoided when lactose is taken in small amounts at a time.9 In the case of protein malabsorption, partially hydrolyzed proteins are easier to digest or absorb.10

If your kid is one of those described above, it may be high time to manage his diet well because your kid is not a small adult and he needs nutrients to support his rapid growth.

 

 

Resources:

  1. MJN Internal data, children 1-3yo, N=259. Habits & Practices Study 2015.
  2. Zheng XL, Kitamoto Y, Sadler JE. Enteropeptidase, a type II transmembrane serine protease. Front Biosci (Elite Ed). 2009;1:242-9.
  3. Szilagyi A. Redefining lactose as a conditional prebiotic. Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology. 2004;18(3):163-7.
  4. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Protein. Available at https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/InteractiveNutritionFactsLabel/fa.... Accessed on 18 October 2017
  5. Schaafsma G. Lactose and lactose derivatives as bioactive ingredients in human nutrition. International Dairy Journal. 2008;18(5):458-65.
  6. Jackson KA, Savaiano DA. Lactose maldigestion, calcium intake and osteoporosis in African-, Asian-, and Hispanic-Americans. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 2001 Apr 1;20(2):198S-207S.
  7. Holzinger A, Maier EM, Bück C, Mayerhofer PU, Kappler M, Haworth JC, Moroz SP, Hadorn HB, Sadler JE, Roscher AA. Mutations in the proenteropeptidase gene are the molecular cause of congenital enteropeptidase deficiency. The American Journal of Human Genetics. 2002;70(1):20-5
  8. Merchant HA, Liu F, Gul MO, Basit AW. Age-mediated changes in the gastrointestinal tract. Available at http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/1542469/1/Orlu%20Gul_Age-mediated%20changes%20in%20GI%20tract.pdf.  Accessed on 28 November 2017.
  9. Misselwitz B, Pohl D, Frühauf H, Fried M, Vavricka SR, Fox M. Lactose malabsorption and intolerance: pathogenesis, diagnosis and treatment. United European Gastroenterology Journal. 2013;1(3):151-9.
  10. Keller J, Layer P. The pathophysiology of malabsorption. Visceral Medicine. 2014;30(3):150-4.
  11. Jackson KA, Savaiano DA. Lactose maldigestion, calcium intake and osteoporosis in African-, Asian-, and Hispanic-Americans. Journal of the American College of Nutrition 2001;20(2):198S-207S.
  12. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Protein. Available at http://www.fda.gov/nutritioneducation . Accessed on 18 October 2017.