Even though antibiotics can be lifesavers, doctors are now much more cautious about prescribing them. This is because the medical community is extremely concerned about the rise in antibiotic resistance.
Antibiotic resistance means that bacterial infections are outwitting the antibiotics, and the antibiotics are often no longer effective at fighting the bad bugs which can in some cases be deadly. These antibiotic-resistant bacteria have been dubbed “Super Bugs” and include MRSA and C Difficile.
The other problem is that antibiotics disrupt the gut microbiome, which sets up the gut environment to slowly become inflamed and the lining to become leaky, known as gut permeability. Gut inflammation and leaky gut can lead to a number of chronic and debilitating health issues including depression, anxiety, autoimmune diseases this and can also disturb your metabolism and make you put on weight more easily.
A recent research paper has found that antibiotics given in the early years, not only wipes out the beneficial bacteria in our gut, but also make it much harder to fight off consequent bacterial infections in the longer term. So antibiotics given for low grade infections, can really impact the ability to fight more virulent ones later on in life. Another reason why doctors are reluctant to prescribe antibiotics as readily now. Because we can’t rely on antibiotic prescriptions now, we need to learn to work harder to support our children’s immune systems when they are small, so their body can fight mild as well as mighty bacterial infections.
So what natural things can you do to keep your child’s immune system ready to fight the bacterial infections that they get exposed to at nursery and school?
- Probiotics – these are beneficial bacteria found in fermented foods like live yoghurt, kefir, miso, sauerkraut, kimchi and apple cider vinegar. You can also boost up the microbiome by eating a huge range of different coloured fruits and vegetables, pulses, nuts and seeds. If antibiotics are prescribed; or if you have a picky eater who dodges fruit and veg; or if they are on a dairy-free diet; or if they are tend to catch every bug going, then a probiotic food supplement could give them the boost they need. Probiotics should ideally be given for at least 6 weeks after a course of antibiotics and some kids benefit from them in the longer term.
- Vitamin A – the vitamin abundant in yellow and orange coloured foods like butter, mango and butternut squash as well as organ meats such as liver. Vitamin A is a critical fat-soluble vitamin needed for children to thrive. This is why it is one of the key vitamins in baby multivitamin formulations. It is also important for eyesight and gut health. High strength vitamin A is used to fight measles epidemics where vaccines are not available. Vitamin A works in harmony with vitamin D, so it is important to ingest some vitamin A when taking Vitamin D and vice versa.
- Vitamin C – abundant in citrus fruit like oranges, satsumas, pineapple, lemon and limes, you can also find vitamin C in raw red peppers and parsley. Since we cannot make vitamin C from within, we have to rely on consuming this through diet. The minimum recommended daily allowance (RDA) for 1-3 year olds is 15mg (maximum daily intake 400mg), 4 to 8 years olds is 25 mg/day (with a max intake of 650mg per day), and the RDA for boys and girls ages 9 to 13 years is 45 mg/day (1,200mg daily maximum). It’s easy to consume the minimum to prevent scurvy, but when your kids are run down you need to be looking closer to the upper end when they are run down and sniffly.
- Vitamin D – We synthesise lots of lovely vitamin D from the sun in the summer but it is much harder to get enough during the winter months, especially in grey, wet Britain. You can get some from eating oily fish, eggs, organic whole milk and mushrooms but these sources are limited. Without enough vitamin D our immune system struggles, and our mood can dip. A vitamin D deficiency is also linked the development of autoimmune diseases and osteoporosis. Some people absorb it nice and easily, whereas dark skinned people find it harder to absorb and if you have one of the VDR genetic SNPs then you will need a lot more to see the difference. The best way to get the sunshine vitamin during the winter is via supplementation and this is what the government recommends too!
- Zinc – zinc is a critical mineral for a growing child and for building a robust immune system – it helps to make all our digestive juices which is critical for efficient extraction of nutrients from the food we eat. It is also important for building healthy hormones and a good sense of smell and taste. We find that a child low in zinc tends to be small, with a narrow diet and prone to picking up sniffles and coughs. We get zinc from meat, eggs and seafood as well as beans, pulses, whole organic milk, avocadoes, spinach and peas. Nuts and seeds as well as oats also contain some zinc. Teenagers need the most daily zinc at 11mg minimum, as its the key mineral needed when going in through puberty; 1-3 year olds need a minimum of 3mg daily; 4-8 year olds more like 5mg and 9-13 year olds need 8mg minimum. Kids can take a little bit more when they ae going through a period of poor immunity and health. This can be bumped up to 7mg per day for 1-3 year olds’ 12mg daily for 4-8 year olds; 23mg daily for 9-13 year olds and 34mg daily for 14 plus. If there is a pronounced zinc deficiency, more may be needed in the short term.
- Mushrooms – Beta glucans in oats and mushrooms are important for building and maintaining a healthy immune system. My top picks for mushrooms to add into your diet include: Maitake, Reishi and Shiitaki. Some kids do not like the sliminess of mushrooms, so you can now buy specialist mushroom-based supplements which can be stirred into food.
- Garlic – Garlic is one of nature’s antibiotics and is great at fighting both bacterial and fungal infections which often found hand in hand. Garlicky pesto’s and salsas are a great way of giving your kids raw garlic.
- Ginger – Ginger is another amazing natural antimicrobial that can be used safely for older babies and toddlers upwards. One study showed that is was able to fight some infections where antibiotics had failed. You can add delicious ginger, garlic and turmeric pastes to your cooking or grate ginger into juices, smoothies or Asian dishes and even puddings like crumbles and compotes.
- Honey – Honey is the only recommendation the NHS now makes for coughs for over 12 months – 12 years. It is soothing and comforting when you have a cold, sore throat or cough. Some honey’s have greater antimicrobial properties than others and that is why we really love honey made from Eucalyptus blossom like Jarrah and Red Gum.
- Long-Term Effects of Early-Life Antibiotic Exposure on Resistance to Subsequent Bacterial Infection.
- Probiotics and Immune Health.
- Beneficial Effects of Probiotic Consumption on the Immune System.
- Beneficial Properties of Probiotics.
- Role of Vitamin A in the Immune System.
- Vitamin A, infection, and immune function.
- Vitamin C Fact Sheet for Health Professionals.
- Regulation of Immune Function by Vitamin D and Its Use in Diseases of Immunity.
- Vitamin D: Nutrient, Hormone, and Immunomodulator.
- Vitamin D and Autoimmune Diseases: Is Vitamin D Receptor (VDR) Polymorphism the Culprit?
- Zinc Fact Sheet for Health Professionals.
- Effects of beta-glucans on the immune system.
- The effects of beta-glucan on human immune and cancer cells.
- Allium sativum (garlic)–a natural antibiotic.
- Antibacterial Activity of Ginger (Zingiber officinale) Against Isolated Bacteria from the Respiratory Tract Infections.