It’s back to school time and you know what that means — sticky, germy kids will be passing around all kinds of infectious microbes and bringing them home. Yikes! Every parent wants to protect their child from getting ill, missing days of school, and getting the rest of the family sick too — so what are they to do? By now we’ve all heard that the use of hand sanitizers causes more problems than it fixes (at least outside of a hospital setting) so what else can help keep those nasty cold and flu bugs from making your kid and everybody else in the household sick? Strong, robust immune systems, of course! There are so many wonderful naturopathic methods for improving immune function, from Vitamin D3 to herbs to adequate sleep and good nutrition, but today I’m going to focus on probiotics, a.k.a. beneficial gut bacteria.
Just like our military forces need training exercises to develop their fighting skills, our immune systems need to be trained to recognize and deal with external threats efficiently. Furthering this analogy, using antibiotics would be like calling in NATO forces instead of training our own military troops to defend us. Any time you resort to using an antibiotic you’re not only preventing the immune system from learning how to mount a good fight on its own, you’re also killing off a huge number of the beneficial bacteria in the gut that help to train those natural immune fighters. That’s right, it’s beneficial bacteria in the gut that help train our immune system to fight foreign invaders. We shouldn’t do anything that diminishes their numbers (except in the case of a life-threatening infection).
Babies born via cesarean section, which is about 1 in 3 as of 2011, start off life at a disadvantage as far as the transference of probiotic bacteria from mother to infant is concerned. The same is true for infants who were fed formula rather than breast milk, which is not only a delivery method for probiotics but also for the prebiotics that feed the beneficial bacteria. So these kids will need even more attention paid to the probiotic supplementation they’re given in order to help bolster their immune systems and help reduce the increased risks they run for obesity, food allergies, allergic rhinitis, eczema, and asthma.
There’s been quite a bit of research into the area of immune stimulation and training by probiotics in recent decades, so we now know several probiotic bacteria species that serve these purposes. A 2006 study wherein specific probiotics were given to infants for diarrhea caused by a rotavirus infection, showed the duration of illness was significantly shorter if given during the first 72 hours of diarrhea. A few studies published in 2009 and 2010 showed that specific combinations of probiotics given to children ages 3-5 for 6 months significantly reduced the incidence, severity, and duration of upper respiratory infections as well as reduced absences from day care. Happily, there is a great product available that has the strains of probiotics used in the 2009 study that you can start using for your back-to-schoolers, and it’s in a chewable tablet that kids actually like. It’s called HMF Fit for School and is available via our online dispensary or from our clinic.
Don’t forget to strengthen your own immune system to fight off all the bugs this kids will be bringing home! We’ll talk more about immune boosting strategies for adults in another newsletter this Fall, but don’t hesitate to schedule a visit with your CFNH doctor in the meantime to get personalized recommendations for yourself.
By Dr. Lauri Brouwer, NMD
Learn more about Dr. Brouwer here.