Have you ever thought about antibiotics and children’s health? Most children get prescribed at least one course of antibiotics during their early years. Usually, a short course knocks bacterial infections on the head fast, and kids pick up nice and quickly when they are taking them. Antibiotics are convenient, and this also means that normal life resumes quite fast when kids take them. However, there is mounting evidence that they are some longer-term effects on our kids’ health from taking antibiotics, and I regularly get messages from parents asking me what they can do to counteract the negatives.
Antibiotics and children’s health: what are the long-term effects?
When our children take antibiotics, they run the risk of acute side-effects, such as stomach upset with diarrhoea, or even an allergic reaction to the antibiotics, which luckily tend to resolve quickly. Yeast infections can also occur during or shortly after a course, which can lead to yeast overgrowth in the mouth, gut and pubic area, and can be unpleasant and probably needs further treatment.
However more importantly, it is now also thought that early use of antibiotics may be the root cause of longer-term health issues including eczema, asthma, behavioural difficulties, childhood anxiety and depression. A big concern is that when antibiotics are consumed, both the wanted “good” bacteria as well as the unwanted “bad” bacteria are killed off. This leaves the gut almost completely devoid of the important beneficial bacteria that support the immune system. The gut, immune system and brain health are closely linked, so without the probiotic-rich good bacteria, the immune system can become seriously compromised, which means your child is more susceptible to future infections and the other issues mentioned above.
The good news is that because of the risks of bad bacteria developing resistance to antibiotics, doctors are now warier and warier of over-prescribing them. But of course, antibiotics are often the only answer to overcoming bacterial infections and some children need to be on constant low-dose antibiotics if their immune system is compromised, or if they have a pre-existing medical condition. Teenagers are also often put on long-term antibiotics to help control acne.
So, if your child is put on antibiotics for a short course, or for the longer term, here are some top tips to keep the gut and immune system strong, and to recover from the effects of the antibiotics. I always advise starting all the dietary interventions during the course of antibiotics, and then continuing these alongside the probiotics for six weeks after the antibiotics have ceased. Continue with ongoing support if your child has been on several courses of antibiotics or are on a long-term course.
Yoghurt and Kefir
Natural yoghurt contains live cultures which are excellent at helping to rebalance gut bacteria. Kids generally love to eat yoghurt and it can easily be blended into a smoothie or a fruity ice-lolly for those who are not big fans.
Kefir, which looks and tastes similar to yoghurt is becoming increasingly popular and is now easily available in supermarkets. It is a super-charged fermented food and can specifically help to restore the fine balance of gut microbes. For dairy-free kids you can now buy dairy-free kefir sachets and coconut kefir. You can also learn to make kefir yourself which saves on the pennies.
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that can help to repopulate gut bacteria after antibiotics. A good quality probiotic should be taken following a course of antibiotics. To find age-appropriate probiotics then see our range at www.naturedoc.shop. Optibac and Bio-Kult make specific probiotic supplements that can also be taken whilst taking antibiotics and these are excellent when long-term antibiotics are on the agenda. The MyBaba Multinutrient contains vitamins, minerals and beneficial bacteria which is good maintenance for long-term immune system support.
Eat the rainbow
Recent research has shown that eating a broad range of plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, pulses and wholegrains help to build a healthy gut microbiome. The greater variety of foods your child eats (raw and cooked) the more diverse and skilled their microbiome will be. This is why I recommend that you encourage your kids to eat at least 20 different plant-based foods on a weekly basis. This amount might sound quite a challenge and so try and have fun with your kids and help them eat a fruit or vegetable from each colour of the rainbow every day. This could look something like a few tomatoes, an orange, some sticks of yellow pepper, a few florets of broccoli and a small handful of blueberries.
Be dirty and get muddy
It is thought that our hyper-vigilant war on microbes is leading to children having more immune issues. Our ultra-clean houses and obsession with cleanliness may lead to problems with immunity that have now been associated with neurodevelopmental and mental health problems. This is partly why there has been a recent push for kids to be exposed to a broad range of different bacteria to build a healthy immune system. This is where stepping back from using anti-bacterial wipes and soaps and opening your windows to let fresh air into your house can make a difference. Kids love to get muddy and their gut microbes love this too, so get them out and about as much as possible to bolster their immune systems!
These steps to combat antibiotic-related problems are easy to incorporate into your family life. They are positive changes that often becomes part of your day to day routine, and often have the added benefits of keeping everyone happy, healthy and robust, even for those who haven’t needed the antibiotics. So what are you waiting for?
About the author
Lucinda Miller is The NatureDoc and she runs a team of UK-wide Nutritional Therapists focused on ‘Bump to Teen Nutrition’. She also runs an www.NatureDoc.Shop which stocks family-friendly food supplements (including My Baba Multinutrient) as well as a handpicked collection of natural and organic essentials for new mamas, babas and toddlers. She is the author of the bestselling family cookbook The Good Stuff.
Look out for Lucinda’s new book ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Baby Food’ published by Short Books on 20th May 2021. A gem of a book, it is packed with nutritious ways to keep your baby and toddler happy, healthy and well. It includes easy ways to reduce sugar and white flour intake, how to win with fussy eating, as well as weaning foods to feed the brain, immune system and gut microbiome. You will also find 120+ delicious and easy recipes that the whole family can enjoy, with clever swaps for the 14 most common allergens.