Q: My husband and I just barely survived a bout of colic with our 4-month-old son. My other two kids never had it. What happened this time? – Sally J., Twinsburg, Ohio
A: I'm sorry your child (and you two) had to go through that. Colic (inconsolable crying for at least three hours a day, three days a week) affects about 20 percent of babies between 3 weeks and 3 months of age. What causes it has always been a mystery. The prevailing theories have been that it has something to do with an immature digestive tract causing gas pains. Or it's from allergies to ingredients in baby formula or sensitivity to cow's milk in the mother's diet and breast milk. But nothing seems to ease the infant's (or parents') agony.
Finally, researchers may have discovered a way to prevent colic or soothe its symptoms. Although the data aren't conclusive, it appears that an imbalance in an infant's gut bacteria (the biome) could be at the heart of the matter. Having the right amount of good and bad bacteria in the gut is essential for everyone's health. Newborns pick up their initial mixture of bacteria as they pass through the birth canal. They need exposure to the mother's microorganisms in order to develop a healthy immune system and good digestion. But certain things, like chronic maternal stress, a C-section, mom taking antibiotics while pregnant or an infant getting them shortly after birth, may interfere with the balance of those diverse bacteria. Then the infant's gut may not get enough “good” lactobacilli and too much “bad” e-coli, resulting in colic.
A recent study found that giving infants a 90-day dose of the probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri helps prevent colic, constipation and regurgitation. Other studies (although not conclusive, as we said) show that taking Lactobacillus reuteri can reduce the amount of time a baby suffers from colic.
Our advice for moms-to-be: If you're stressed or take antibiotics while pregnant, also take a probiotic. And if your child develops colic, talk to your pediatrician about determining a safe source and dose of probiotics for your infant.
Q: No one believes me when I say dieting doesn't make me lose weight. I cut calories down to 1,400 a day for three months and barely lost eight pounds. What is going on with me? — Beth G., Tulsa, Okla.
A: Two popular phrases are part of dieting mythology: “A calorie is a calorie” and “Dieting is all about calories in and calories out.” You, and lots of other folks who feel like they're losing the weight-loss battle, are proof that those sayings are not entirely true. It's not to say that calories don't count: They do, and you will gain weight if you take in more than you burn off in a day. But...
One study found the significant difference between the eating habits of a group of normal weight and overweight folks wasn't how much they ate but what they ate. Overweight folks took in too many calories from saturated fats and refined carbohydrates, and too few from whole grains, veggies and fruit.
Plant-based foods are packed with fiber and trace minerals, as well as phytochemicals such as allin from garlic, lycopene from tomatoes, isoflavones from soy and beta carotene from carrots. They all help nurture good gut bacteria, control inflammation and fight obesity by improving glucose regulation and reducing insulin resistance, known to make weight loss difficult.
So don't give up trying to lose weight! Instead, make two or three food swaps a day. Eat a large apple instead of a granola bar, drink a cup of coffee or tea instead of sweetened soda and munch on baked kale chips instead of French fries. Your goal is nine servings of fruits and veggies a day; stick with unprocessed foods and lean protein from fish and skinless chicken. You'll see a big difference in your weight and what you lose will stay lost.