By Dr. Carla Cashin, ND | Naturopath Victoria BC
Many of us grew up afraid of bacteria and were encouraged to use all measures possible to sterilize our bodies and living spaces. The overuse of antimicrobial soaps and antibiotics has diminished their efficacy, and in many cases this war on microbes has not only been futile, but actually harmed our natural healthy bacteria.
Interestingly, scientists are discovering that reduced exposure to microbes early in life may be contributing to the development of several chronic diseases including eczema, allergies, and asthma. Depleted populations of healthy bacteria within the gut may also contribute to frequent infections and digestive disturbances such as colic, constipation and diarrhea. It turns out that the trillions of bacteria in our bodies, collectively known as the microbiome, have a very important role in proper development of the digestive and immune systems.
As a naturopathic doctor, I encourage parents to shift the focus away from preventing exposure to germs and to instead cultivate their childrens’ healthy microbiomes.
Consequences of Cesarean Delivery and Antibiotics at Birth on The Microbiome
Development of a healthy microbiome begins at birth, when the sterile gut is rapidly colonized with bacteria. Infants born by Cesarean delivery or exposed to antibiotics at birth have a delayed and altered development of gut flora. Extra care may be needed in these infants to establish a healthy population of gut bacteria.
Breastfeeding Promotes Favorable Gut Bacteria
One of the best ways to cultivate a healthy intestinal flora in infants is by breastfeeding. Human milk contains substantial quantities of prebiotics: substances not directly digested by our own guts that instead fuel the growth of healthy bacteria.
Reducing our Reliance on Antibiotics
The standards of care in medicine are evolving to minimize antibiotic use. For example, acute bronchitis used to be routinely treated with antibiotics and evidence no longer supports this recommendation as most cases are viral in nature. With herbal medicine, rest, proper nutrition, close monitoring, and nurturing rather than suppressing the fever response, most children in my practice overcome common infections without requiring an antibiotic. Of course, I don’t hesitate to prescribe antibiotics if they are truly needed.
Probiotics are cultures of beneficial bacteria and are found in supplements or fermented foods such as yogurt and sauerkraut. In my practice, I often prescribe probiotic supplements for infants, especially in those who were born by Cesarean delivery or exposed to antibiotics at birth or as an infant. I typically recommend supplementation with 3-10 billion CFUs per day of mixed strains of Lactobaccillus and Bifidobacteria for 3 months to repopulate heathy gut flora. Please note probiotics should not be supplemented in children under 1 year of age or who are immunocompromised without first speaking with a qualified health practitioner.