Developing Childhood Immunity - Microbes, Not Antibiotics
It's that time of year again. The time of year where everyone starts catching flus and colds. Hand sanitizers and antibiotics are generally overused, but around this time of year they are particularly. Antibiotics are one of the most misused medications and this has contributed to the emergence of resistant bacteria. Many child doctor visits end with an antibiotic prescription for a viral infection. It's important to wash our hands and teach our children proper hygiene. But what I'm discussing is the liberal use of hand sanitizers, antibacterial soaps, and antibiotics.
Antibiotics are well known for killing strains of harmful bacteria. However they also kill the life of microbes (gut flora) inside our digestive tract that are responsible for lots of beneficial reasons. Our healthy gut flora is known to:
- Neutralize toxic by-products of digestion
- Reduce harmful substances (i.e. toxins and carcinogens)
- Discourage 'bad' bacteria and yeasts
- Stimulate the digestive process
- Aids in absorption and produces nutrients, such as Vitamin B and K
Constant use of antibiotics and antimicrobials can have a profound effect on our child's immune system. According to many immunologists and microbiologists we're raising our children in a hyper-hygienic environment, and it's contributing to an increase of ailments, including allergies and obesity. Furthermore, by not exposing our immune system to bugs we're not allowing our cells to learn how to kill them.
According to microbiologists Marie-Claire Arrieta and Brett Finlay, co-authors of a book called Let Them Eat Dirt: Saving Our Children from an Oversanitized World, "When we’re born we do not have any microbes. Our immune system is underdeveloped. But as soon as microbes come into the picture, they kick-start our immune system to work properly. Without microbes our immune system can’t fight infections well." By keeping our immune system from being exposed to microbes we're not allowing it to train and build properly. And research shows this is contributing to a host of problems.
Epidemiological evidence shows that kids who are growing up on a farm environment have way less chance of developing asthma. Kids born via C-section, which doesn't expose them to the microbes of their mother's vaginal flora, are at an increased risk of developing type 1 diabetes, Crohn's disease, multiple sclerosis and allergic diseases, such as asthma, allergic rhinitis, and atopic dermatitis. Studies have also shown that cleaning everything that goes in baby’s mouth increases their chances of asthma. The incidence of developing asthma is decreased if the pacifier is cleaned in the parent’s mouth.
The microbiologists conclude that, "we should not stop washing our hands, but we should do it at a time when it is effective at preventing disease spread — before we eat and after using the restroom. Any other time it is not necessary. So if your child is out in the backyard playing with dirt, you do not need to remove that dirt. There’s no benefit from doing so. There has to be a balance between preventing infection, which is still a real threat in society, but also promoting this microbial exposure that is healthy."
Author's of a separate study summed up an approach nicely as to decreasing these risks associated with being hyper-hygienic: "Evidence suggests a combination of strategies, including natural childbirth, breast feeding, increased social exposure through sport, other outdoor activities, less time spent indoors, diet and appropriate antibiotic use, may help restore the microbiome and perhaps reduce risks of allergic disease."
So get outside and play with your kids! You'll bond more and it'll help out you and your child's health in the long run.
Travis Whitney, NMD, MSc