The Link Between Gut Bacteria And Your Kid’s Behavior Just Got Stronger

Ohio State University researchers have found that gut bacteria affect a toddler’s temperament. After examining the stool samples of 77 kids aged 18-27 months, the researchers concluded that it was time to step outside and get some fresh air. They also concluded that mood, curiosity, sociability, impulsivity, and — in boys — extroversion were linked to more genetically diverse bacterial species.

Gut bacteria is having a moment lately, even receiving the Very Important Story treatment recently in the New York Times. The paper of record takes a deep dive into research that increasingly suggests the microorganisms swimming around your pipes not only digest foodand fight disease, they secrete mood-regulating chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid or GABA.

“There is definitely communication between bacteria in the gut and the brain, but we don’t know which one starts the conversation,” says the OSU study’s co-author Dr. Michael Bailey. “Maybe kids who are more outgoing have fewer stress hormones impacting their gut than shy kids. Or maybe the bacteria are helping mitigate the production of stress hormones when the child encounters something new. It could be a combination of both.”


Gastrointestinal abnormalities have been linked to “anxiety, depression, and several pediatric disorders, including autism and hyperactivity,” the Times reports. Research like that from OSU is focused on how the mood-regulating chemicals get from the gut to the brain, and how that process might be involved in chronic disease. But the implications could be way more pedestrian: Is there a dietary cure for looney toddlers?

“It is possible that effects of diet would emerge if we used a more detailed assessment,” says Bailey’s co-author, Dr. Lisa Christian. “It is certainly possible that the types or quantities of food that children with different temperaments choose to eat affect their microbiome.”

Given the glacial pace of this kind of research, don’t expect to calm a meltdown over lost Legos with a squeeze pouch of carefully calibrated gut bacteria anytime soon. In the meantime, root for the next-best thing: fecal transplants!


One thought on “The Link Between Gut Bacteria And Your Kid’s Behavior Just Got Stronger

  1. As a holistic nutritionist, now living in the UK, I’m offered much examples of how a certain diet influences behaviour of children and adults. If there’s one country living on high sugar addiction, it’s the UK, that is, in the less educated parts of the population, living often on the breadline. Materialistic focus is strong here, when the neighbours have a flatscreen, it means running off to the shop to have one too. Villagers vote for their Tesco, Morrison or Waitrose supermarket, for they see them appear in the neighbouring village. “We want that too!”

    Generations of families have lived in a degenerating lifestyle, without any support or education by nurses, doctors or nutritionists. It seems that here in the UK, no regular visits to consultation bureaus for babies are obligatory. In Holland, where I lived almost 64 years of my life, the first years of a child are monitored by mothers visiting these bureaus, checking health, physical and emotional development and weight.
    Of course, encouraging bottle feeding and vaccinations are included too, as the shadow side of it.

    Behaviour of children is a constant drama, in the UK, at times, in want of sweets all of the time, joined by their parents. To keep them all sweet, of course in increasing peaks and lows of bloodsugar levels, resulting in
    diabetes at some point, when the pancreas gives up and insulin can’t regulate this amount of sugar intake anymore. Diabetes is rising fast, combined with obesity in all ages. Women are usually more obese.

    I witness this in public, in city-streets and pubs, the presence of toddler tantrums, in kids and adults both, fiddling and restless body movement, sudden outbursts of shouting and climbing of the furniture, repetition of ticking and clicking with small objects, siblings fighting for the best seat or sweet. Children as little tyrants. Hardly I witness control and clear boundaries in parentsr, unless it’s an occasional shout from 10 meter distance, out of the depths of a settee, from a parent’s mouth, while the eyes are glued to the mobile phone screen or the telly.

    Apart from the high sugar intake, much junk food is on the plate of these families. It’s all advertised and promoted, cheap and always offered as bargains. Dead food, radiated in order to kill the bad germs, killing beneficial vitamins and nutrients at the same time. Gut bacteria aren’t thriving on it, gradually this creates a loop: energy loss, compensated with instant gratification of sugar. Or alcoholic drinks and gobbling up of large amounts of food. British conversation topics? The weather, food, other people’s behaviour and material things.

    I believe there’s a gradual physical loss of vitality, due to a chaotic condition of these people’s guts, automatically turning them to seek for compensation, by the consumption of junk food, combined with a lifestyle of sitting in the car, sitting in front of the telly, or with eyes on a screen. Consumerism on all levels.

    It’s an instinctual way of being present and making choices, without the ability to self-reflect and a huge lack of education. It seems to be caused by a lack of awareness linked to action for change, lack of knowledge and an appalling sign of neglect in the UK’s governmental institutions and in the medical world in general.

    Jamie Oliver made efforts to change the school meals and he has created a change, where the staff of schools began to prepare meals for the children, in turn. Freshly prepared each day, in co-operation with local farmers. Teachers show the kids in the classroom where milk comes from or takes them to a farm.

    But at home, for these families, nothing is done to change these deeply ingrained habits of eating and lifestyle. In short, this shows me that attitude is at the root of solutions that last, turning health levels in the right direction. Britain is a country where embarassment results in closing oneself off of the outside world and
    ignore the knock on the door of one’s conscience that could cause a choice for action.

    That’s fully unknown to me, as a Dutch born citizen and a “born to be free spirit”. I’m constantly aware of this difference between Holland and Britain. Shame and guilt are the fog, clouding many British people’s awareness and clarity. A great network of volunteers for charities and a similar sense of humour is a positive presence here, for it shows to me, that British people are aware of their general attitude, the quirky illogical spirit in their organisation of daily life, at present, joined by much sarcasm and cynical remarks about the government. It’s very rare that I witness an action, taken for a positive cause and good outcome.

    As much as shame and guilt are present, imprinted by the old fashioned British education system, the hierarchical power structures in all levels of British society, there’s definitely much good being done by elderly residents. Those holding their old fashioned education high in a good way, knowing what charity truly means.

    Usually this is happening in silence, unnoticed almost, as if casually done. Human beings are such a mixed bag of contradictions and conflicting forces and I’m no exception to be honest. Living in the UK is a humbling experience for me and a great source or invitation to offer my support, creatively building up my own life and the life of a village community, gradually weaning off of my critical Mother Superior-strictness 🙂

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