Dr. Kristina Lewis’s article as a guest columnist to the Asheville Citizen-Times about a possible link between the risk of developing asthma and the use of antibiotics in children younger than age 1.
“Research links early antibiotic use to later development of asthma”
By Kristina Taylor Lewis
Guest columnist, Asheville Citizen-Times
July 24, 2007
Asthma is a major concern for many children and adults in Western North Carolina. That’s why the results of a recent study caught my attention.
Researchers in Canada have uncovered a possible link between the risk of developing asthma and the use of antibiotics in children younger than age 1.
The study, published in the June issue of the journal Chest, of the American College of Chest Physicians, looked at more than 13,000 children, comparing the number of times they were given antibiotics for various conditions (ear infections, bronchitis, etc.) during the first year of life with the likelihood of developing asthma later. They concluded that “antibiotic use in early life was associated with the development of childhood asthma.” The more antibiotics a child was given, the greater the risk.
This is not the first study to suggest this link, but it is the largest and is consistent with what the earlier studies have shown.
What is the connection? At first glance, it may seem that the antibiotics given for an ear infection or a chest cold would have nothing to do with the eventual development of asthma. But as a naturopathic doctor, looking at the whole person, it makes sense.
Antibiotics kill not only the bacteria causing an illness but also the good bacteria naturally living in our bodies, specifically our intestines, that are critical for optimal immune function. Without a strong immune system, children are much more susceptible to developing asthma.
The popular and well-researched “hygiene hypothesis” suggests American’s love of antibacterial wipes and soap, combined with overuse of antibiotics, has left our immune system unchallenged and bored. The less exposure to germs in the early years, the weaker the immune system is later in life and the less practice the body has had in determining what is good and what is bad. The result -everything is attacked, the good and the bad, leading to allergies and asthma.
Our immune systems need a regular workout, just as our muscles need to be stressed in order to grow bigger and stronger.
So what can you do? Many antibiotics given during the first years of life are unnecessary, since a majority of common childhood ailments are viral, not bacterial, and will not be helped with antibiotics. There are many natural alternatives to giving young children antibiotics – check in with your local naturopathic doctor, homeopath, herbalist or acupuncturist for help.
Second, let your child play in the dirt sometimes – getting a little dirty is part of being a kid. It will boost their immune system, prevent future allergies and will provide exercise and stimulation away from the TV and computer. It’s a great way to exercise both their muscles and their immune systems.
This is the opinion of Kristina Taylor Lewis, a naturopathic doctor in practice at Lewis Family Natural Health in Asheville. She can be reached at 298-4800 or www.LewisNaturalHealth.com.