This study demonstrates that the use of antibiotics in infants has the potential to result in long-term changes in their gut flora. This has very important implications. Anyone who is familiar with some of the information on gut flora is likely to be aware of their importance for healthy digestion. However, recent research indicates that healthy gut flora are very important for the proper development of many important aspects of our health. Healthy gut flora is necessary for the normal development and maintenance of our immune system. For example, imbalances of gut flora early in life, such as those caused by the use of antibiotics, can lead to the development of autoimmune conditions such as allergies [see: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120507141146.htm]. More recently, evidence from animal studies suggests that infant gut flora also influences the development our nervous system as well [see: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-neuroscience-of-gut], and it doesn't end there. The more research that is done on gut flora, the more amazing and important they become!
Herbs such as oregano (Origanum vulgare) can be effective alternatives to antibiotics.
However, contrary to popular belief, the tincture (especially of the fresh herb) is the
preparation of choice. Oregano essential oil is not recommended for internal use.
Antibiotics are very powerful drugs. They should only be used for the treatment of very serious, life-threatening infections for which natural treatments might not work quickly enough, or in situations where for some reason natural treatments might not be recommended. This is particularly true for infants, for whom the long-term detrimental affects of antibiotics are more profound. Although I can not definitively back this up with hard statistics, based on my knowledge and experience I don't think it would be an exaggeration to say that more than 99% of the time that antibiotics are prescribed for use in humans there use is unnecessary or inappropriate, and they are misused to an even much greater degree by the agricultural industry! Their abuse has led to innumerable negative health and environmental consequences including a growing proportion of microorganisms that have developed a resistance to their actions. So now they often don't work even in situations where their use is required.
Among other things, probiotics are very important for the prevention and treatment of infections, as well as to help restore the gut flora in situations where the use of antibiotics is unavoidable. That being said, it is not always possible for parents to be able to discern when herbal or other treatments are appropriate, or what treatment will be effective. With a little bit of knowledge some degree of self-treatment is possible, but it is important to have access to an experienced herbalist or other natural health practitioner whom you can consult with that can properly assess the situation if self-treatment isn't proving to be effective. For more information on the treatment of infections, see my previous post Treating Respiratory Infections which also includes links to several articles that I wrote on this topic. You can also find a fair bit of information on the use of probiotics for the prevention and treatment of infectious conditions as well as more detailed information on the treatment of infections, including in infants and children, in our online lecture Immune Support and the Natural Treatment of Colds and Flu. There is also some useful information in my previous post Probiotics and Fibre.
Lactobacillus delbrueckii ssp. bulgaricus is an important probiotic species that is used to make yogurt.
Many of the factors that I recommended for women who are planning to get pregnant in my previous post, Providing a Healthy Start for the Next Generation, will have a positive influence on the gut flora of their children when they are born. In addition, breastfeeding is also very important for the normal development of our intestinal microflora [see: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120429234641.htm]. I recommend that infants are nursed exclusively until they are 5-6 months old, and then foods introduced one at a time. Difficult to assimilate foods, such as animal proteins, dairy products, nuts and gluten containing grains should not be introduced until after one year. Whenever possible, it is also preferable that infants not be completely weaned until they are at least one year old as well. Of course, it is essential that nursing mothers engage in healthy diet and lifestyle practices while they are nursing, both for their own benefit as well as for the health of their child.
The roots of many plants from the Aster family, such as Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus),
contain polysaccharides that promote the growth of beneficial gut flora.
It is ironic that better nutrition, sanitation and hygiene were the most important factors that led to the reduction in infectious disease in the last 150 years - much more so than any advances in medicine. However, we have now gone too far towards the opposite extreme. As one of the researches indicated in an article that I linked to above, our obsession with hygiene is killing us. Remember, sterile means dead! Devoid of life! It's time we stopped dosing ourselves with antibiotics and antibacterial substances, from chlorine to triclosan to copper. Everywhere you look you can see it: antimicrobial soap and personal hygiene products, hand sanitizers, antimicrobial clothing... The net effect of all of this is that the microbes are getting stronger and we are getting weaker. Regular exposure to microorganisms is part of life and is necessary to maintain a strong immune system. Believe it or not, the number of microorganisms that live in and on our body outnumber our body cells by a factor of ten to one! So where does our body end and the rest of the world begin? We are really an ecosystem living in an ecosystem. We have been using antibiotics and antiseptics to indiscriminately kill off the other organisms that co-inhabit our body when we know almost nothing of their purpose. They are part of us and we part of them. This is another example of the human species out of balance. One of the many benefits of living in greater harmony with nature through the choices that we make each day is that we not only help to create an internal and external environment that supports the health and well-being of our cells, tissues, organs, and body as a whole, it also helps to create an environment that supports the life of the many organisms that we are meant to live with. In response, they do the same for us. It's a win-win situation. What more could we ask for?