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HEALTH CONCERN? BioHealth Health Concerns

Antibiotics and Children: Friend or Foe?

Contributing Author: Riendeau, Claire N.M.D.

Claire RiendeauDr. Claire Riendeau is a naturopathic doctor specializing in nutrition and functional medicine, with many complex cases involving long-term chronic infections and environmental toxicity. Claire has earned two doctorate degrees, Doctor of Naturopathy and Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine, is certified in Metabolic Nutrition and holds a Diploma of Homeopathic Medicine. She is a member of the American Naturopathic Medical Association and the International Foundation for Nutrition and Health. She is a widely sought out lecturer and provider for environmental illnesses such as Lyme disease.

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According to today's research, two out of three babies receive antibiotics by their first birthday, which increases to three out of four by the time a child is two years old. There are many stories of young children, as well as adults, repeatedly treated with antibiotics. An article about a four-year old boy taking 18 courses of antibiotics for recurring infections in his short lifetime was heartbreaking.

Antibiotics produced great excitement when introduced in the 1930s. Many thought they would be the cure for all infectious diseases. Antibiotics are miraculous medicines when used judiciously. They are the first choice in life-threatening situations or when bacteria have infected the blood stream, bone, spinal cord, or other vital organs. However, through misuse and overuse in treating such ailments as colds and the flu, many "bugs" developed defense mechanisms, creating new strains of "superbugs."

In January 2005, the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) released a series of public service announcements to raise awareness about proper antibiotic usage. The goal of this national campaign was to reverse public perceptions that "antibiotics cure everything." Is the overzealous doctor prescribing antibiotics too readily? Is the overly anxious mother, whose child has an ear infection, pressuring the doctor into doing "something?" Maybe it is both.

Be informed when faced with the decision to give antibiotics to your child or take them yourself. Risk comes with the use of antibiotics. After receiving your prescription, read the long list of potential side effects and diseases attributed to the antibiotic.

We all want our children to be vibrantly healthy and happy. Children's immune systems function much like those of adults with the major exception that kids' immune systems are actively "learning." Their acquired immunity is developing, allowing them to fight off infections with repeated exposure. Constant support of your children through the process ensures their immune system develops properly and stays strong. Some of the steps are the same, whether discussing prevention or cure.

Children need adequate sleep to repair, rebuild and regenerate cells damaged by bacteria and viruses. Newborns to toddlers require 12 to 14 hours of sleep and adolescents need 10 to 12 hours of sleep.

Consider breastfeeding as long as possible. It decreases the incidence of diarrhea, blood infections, meningitis, asthma, respiratory illness and ear infections.

Feed your kids a balanced, whole food, preferably organic diet with a wide a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. These foods contain higher levels of the vitamins and minerals (compared to canned or frozen) required for an active immune system. The high fiber content in whole foods increases the number of beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract, helping to protect against gastrointestinal and other chronic diseases.

Encourage your children to drink lots of purified/filtered water. Well-hydrated mucus membranes are plump and more resistant to infection.

Be sure that physical activity is a part of your children's life. Exercise and movement have been shown to decrease the incidence of chronic disease, obesity and cancer, increasing the body's ability to cope with stress and infection.

Give your children lots of love and attention. They need to be held, hugged, rocked and kissed regularly. When they feel loved, they are secure and happy. Their immune system functions better, and they therefore become healthier.

Don't smoke around your children. Kids exposed to secondhand smoke are more likely to suffer from recurrent respiratory and ear infections, as well as asthma.

If your child gets sick, know that mild childhood infections help train the immune system. A cold virus that kids catch today is one they won't catch tomorrow. Remember, this is a natural process of growing up and not necessarily a bad thing, as many parents fear.

Antibiotics not only seek the pathogenic or "bad" bacteria, they also destroy the beneficial bacteria necessary and vital to good health. Depleting these organisms disrupts the balance of the body, suppresses immunity and leads to increased susceptibility to infections by fungi, bacteria, viruses and parasites. Excessive use of antibiotics kills beneficial bacteria, encouraging an overgrowth of yeast in the body. This suppresses immunity and may lead to recurrent infections. Discuss recolonization of beneficial bacteria with your doctor, as the types of organisms are age specific.

Antibiotic usage adversely affects many nutrients such as vitamins A and C, which are needed by the immune system to fight infection. Diarrhea, a common side effect of antibiotics may deplete magnesium and zinc. Nutritional loss over a long period debilitates the body and sets up an environment for more infections.

Treating a child with antibiotics without correcting the cause will likely create a continuing cycle of repeat infections. Consider seeing a holistic practitioner to rule out food allergies and environmental illness. Learn how sugar, grains and dairy greatly influence the immune system. Sweeteners, dyes, flavorings and other unnamed additives are found in both foods and antibiotics. Tiny amounts of these additives can cause ongoing challenges for a sensitive child.