Originally published in March-April 1998

This friendly bacteria helps keep your child, and yourself, in balance.

The word “bacteria” is practically a dirty word in our culture today. Most households have special soaps, detergents, and cleansers designed to kill germs and keep family members safe from the dreaded bacteria. Children, our most precious family members, are the ones with whom we are most concerned about keeping safe from bacterial contamination.

 Bearing this in mind, why would some families purposely give their children bacteria supplements? The answer to this question lies in the fact that, as in the case of ‘one bad apple spoiling the whole barrel,’ some disease-causing bacteria have given the entire class of bacteria a bad name.

 

Certain bacteria, called probiotics, or friendly bacteria, are absolutely essential to a healthy body. It is crucial for children, as well as adults, to maintain plentiful amounts of these helpful and health enhancing bacteria. If friendly bacteria are eradicated from the body (as with overuse of antibiotics), diarrhea, opportunistic infections, and ill health can be the consequence.

 Antibiotics: part of the problem or part of the solution?

Once hailed as the conquerors of infections, some scientists are sounding the alarm that antibiotics may ironically contribute to ill health in the long run. It seems that Darwinian natural selection is at work. Antibiotics, through over prescription by doctors and misuse by patients, selectively kill of weak bacteria and encourage the growth of hardy, “antibiotic resistant” bacteria. To make matters worse, our resident friendly bacteria are also killed off by antibiotics, leaving the body ‘out of balance.’

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This so-called antibiotic paradox is rooted in the fact that many antibiotics, which are commonly prescribed for common childhood ailments, such as ear infections, work in very general ways. For example, penicillin prevents bacteria cells from making an outside wall, allowing water to enter the cell and explode the bacteria. When a person takes penicillin (or another antibiotic), it doesn’t selectively explode only the disease-causing bacteria; our friendly bacteria can be caught in the crossfire.

 

While there certainly are infections that necessitate the use of antibiotics, there are many natural eays to boost immunity and lower your family’s risk of facing such infections. A healthful, nutrient-rich diet that supplies optimal amounts of micronutrients, such as vitamins C, A, E, the carotenoids, selenium, and zinc, helps ensure a vigilant immune system. In addition, research indicates that flourishing colonies of friendly bacteria help prevent the overgrowth of many harmful germs.

 

Friendly bacteria that reside in the intestine are particularly important to overall health. These ‘intestinal flora’ include various strains of acidophilus and bifido-bacteria. As an illustration of how important these bacteria are, a group of researchers bred germ-free laboratory animals, that is animals who lacked any bacteria (good or bad) in their bodies. These animals could become fatally ill from as few as ten cells of a disease-causing bacteria. In contrast, it would take 10 million infectious cells to kill a normal animal with healthy colonies of beneficial bacteria.

 

Acidophilus supplements and yogurt

Replenishing supplies of beneficial bacteria is very important if diarrhea develops after your child used antibiotics; or even better, active culture yogurt or supplements providing beneficial bacteria can be

taken as a preventative during antibiotic use.

Yogurt is the traditional source of beneficial bacteria; however, different brands of yogurt can vary greatly in their bacteria strain and potency. Many processed yogurt don’t even contain any active bacteria. Supplements containing beneficial bacteria are consequently, a good alternative for assuring active and beneficial strains of bacteria at the highest potency and with the greatest health benefits. There are even supplements available in health-food stores designed specifically for young family members and their special health needs.