Episode 5: Ask The Naturopath! Can Antibiotics Affect Kids’ Behaviour?
Today, we’re going to do our very first Ask the Naturopath episode!
In these episodes, I am going to answer a question from one of our Natural Super Kids Klub members. I want to pick questions that will allow us to delve a bit deeper into some of the really important concepts when it comes to kids’ health.
In this very first Ask the Naturopath episode, I am answering our Klub member Ambers question, “Miss 4 is on antibiotics for an ear infection. Her behaviour, I think since being on antibiotics, has been hugely emotional. Could this be attributed? Anything I can do to help her?”
While answering Amber’s question on the episode we talk about
- The possible causes of kids’ behavioural changes in relation to infection or antibiotic use.
- How overuse of antibiotics can affect the good bacteria in a child’s gut microbiome which may lead to mood or behavioural changes.
- We delve deeper into this topic as we explore medication additives, the gut-brain connection, the importance of replenishing good gut bacteria after antibiotic use and so much more.
Welcome back to the podcast, everybody!
I’m excited to be here with you today. Today, we’re going to do our very first Ask the Naturopath episode. In these episodes, which I’m hoping to do once a month-ish, I’m going to answer one of the questions that our Natural Super Kids Klub members has asked. So I’m going to handpick these questions based on a few different factors. One, I want to choose questions which I know you will get a lot of value from the answers from, of course. And two, I want to pick questions that will allow us to delve a bit deeper into some of the really important concepts when it comes to kids health. Our question today comes from our lovely Natural Super Kids Klub member, Amber. I’m going to read the question out.
Amber asks, “Miss Four is on antibiotics for an ear infection. Her behaviour, I think, since being on antibiotics has been hugely emotional. Can this be attributed? Anything I can do to help her?” I think this is a fantastic question and we are going to delve into it now.
There are three likely things that are happening here with Amber’s daughter, who is four. Number one, maybe the infection is actually the thing that is causing her to be emotional and affect her behaviour. This is a fairly basic concept I think, but maybe overlooked. When kids are tired, they are in discomfort. When their bodies’ fatigued. Because they’re fighting an infection in the background, they are much more likely to be grumpy to have tantrums. Kids are short tempered. And they have meltdowns. That is one thing. Now, I’m not sure if this is the case for Amber’s daughter, because she has noticed this since her daughter’s been on antibiotics. Her behaviour has changed and she’s been emotional. I just wanted to flag this because this is something that we don’t want to overlook.
Kids can be affected in different ways in terms of their mood and behaviour when they are unwell.
The second thing is that antibiotics affect the good bacteria in a child’s gut microbiome. Now we’re going to delve into this in a moment but this can certainly lead to mood and behavioral challenges. I think this is a really interesting area to explore. But I do just want to talk about the third point that could be going on here, which is easily overlooked. And that is that children’s medication particularly can and most does include additives in some shape or form. There could be additives such as colours, flavours, such as sweeteners. This is really apparent when you look at those brightly coloured antibiotic syrups that are prescribed for our children.
They definitely contain a range of additives. It could potentially be the additives in the medication that are leading to some of these emotional symptoms and behavioural symptoms. In fact, I have a website called Fed Up, it’s www.fedup.com.au, and it’s a great resource for food intolerances and food additives. On this website, it talks about some of the reactions that can occur from food additives that are found in both food and medications. I want to just read these out to you, and just really to raise awareness. A point to think about even when your children are on medication.
Some of the reactions or the effects of these food additives for kids can be irritability, restlessness, short fuse tantrums. ADHD-type symptoms, oppositional defiance, difficulty falling asleep, frequent night waking, mood swings. Anxiety, depression, panic attacks, inattention, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, and it goes on to list. You know, eczema and skin symptoms, reflux, stomach aches and other digestive symptoms. Headaches, migraines, asthma and breathing difficulties. So this is a real possibility in terms of a cause for children that might be on medications and be having behavioural or mood challenges. I will link to that particular article in the show notes for anyone who’s interested in exploring this area more.
Let’s talk about antibiotics for a moment because I just want to make it clear that I am definitely not anti-antibiotics.
There’s no doubt that antibiotics save lives and in the early 1900s. The top three killers of our children were infectious diseases. I for one, am very grateful as a mother that I don’t have the fear that those moms did back in those early 1900 days. Because nowadays, it is relatively rare for a child to die from a common infectious disease. The introduction of antibiotics has had both positive and negative effects on our children’s health. One of the negative effects of antibiotics is that they are having an effect on our kids’ gut bacteria on their microbiome. And we know that the gut microbiome is a very important part or consideration when it comes to our kids’ health.
We know that over use of antibiotics can have a detrimental effect on the microbiome and reduce the diversity. The number of different species of bacteria within the microbiome. We know that lack of diversity is linked with all kinds of common childhood conditions that we see today. Including eczema, asthma, allergies, autism and ADHD. Of course, these conditions are multifactorial. But we want to really be aware of this effect that overuse of antibiotics can have on our kids health. We know that antibiotics are significantly overused. There are over 30 million scripts for antibiotics written in Australia every year. Almost half of Australians are given at least one course of antibiotics per year. This is contributing to antibiotic resistance. Described as one of the greatest threats to public health in Australia.
There are also many cases where antibiotics are not warranted. Scripts are written for infections that are viral, or not clearly a bacterial infection. For example, the majority of ear infections are viral in nature. But most doctors will prescribe antibiotics for ear infections, without a consideration of whether it’s caused by a virus or a bacteria. Antibiotics are also commonly used through pregnancy, through birth. Through very early childhood, and unfortunately, even one course of antibiotics for kids and babies can be devastating for their immune system. Nearly every child that I see with immune issues or recurrent infections, has had either a heavy use of antibiotics overall or exposure to antibiotics when very young. We want to consider these but we also know that antibiotics do save lives.
It’s important to look at the pros and cons when we’re considering whether our child might need antibiotics.
Now, I want to go back to the second point that I made in terms of the effect that antibiotics have on the gut microbiome. How this can lead to the mood and behavioural challenges that Amber is talking about in her daughter. As potentially one of the things that might be going on and I just find this area. So fascinating. You may have heard about this before, the gut-brain connection. The gut brain connection is an area that is attracting a lot of attention and a lot of scientific research. It is very fascinating and we’re only just starting to scratch the surface when it comes to the connection between the gut and the brain. Scientists are now calling the gut the second brain because it has such a big impact on brain health overall. On mood, and on behaviour.
So put simply, the gut brain connection is the fact that the gut and the brain are talking to each other or communicating with each other. There’s a nerve called the Vagus nerve that links the gut to the brain. If we think about life experiences that we might have had where a particular emotional state, a particular emotional state has affected our gut in some way. For example, we’re really nervous, and we feel it in our tummy. We get those butterflies or we might be really angry or sad, and we feel sick in our stomach because of that. So that is a really good example of that communication that’s happening between our gut and our brain.
Our emotions have a direct impact on our gut. The relationship goes both ways and it’s been found. Scientific research has found that the microbes in our gut can communicate with our brain. This is thought to affect the production of neurotransmitters or brain chemicals that affect so many different aspects of our kids’ health. Mood, behaviour, and sleep are really important ones. Brain chemicals, such as serotonin, dopamine, and GABA (Gamma Aminobutyric Acid), are all essential for mental health. An imbalance in these chemicals is linked to mood and behavioural challenges.
Kids with anxiety, depression, ADHD, and kids that are on the spectrum can often have an imbalance in these brain chemicals. An imbalance in these brain chemicals is linked to a lower diversity in gut bacteria. High diversity within our microbiome and our kids’ microbiome is important for overall health. But this suggests that it has a specific impact on our kids’ mental health and our mental health as well. This is really translatable for both children and adults. Improving the diversity within our children’s gut, can help to rebalance these brain chemicals and improve their mental health, their mood, their behaviour.
When we go back to this use of antibiotics, which is affecting negatively this diversity within our gut microbiome. This is exactly what antibiotics are designed to do. To kill bacteria. And of course, this can be life changing if its pathogenic bacteria that’s causing illness. It also is that they are also affecting the good, the healthy bacteria within our kids’ gut, within our kids’ microbiome. So the overuse of antibiotics can really reduce that diversity within the microbiome.
This is a really important factor and, look, there’s not enough research to know how quickly something like one course of antibiotics could affect our children’s mood and behaviour. You know, but it is something that we need to be aware of. And it does seem, in certain children, perhaps that have less robust gut health, they already have some gut health imbalance issues, that just one cause of antibiotics can definitely knock that balance over the edge. And start to affect their mood and their behaviour in a negative way.
To recap, in terms of Amber’s question. I think the three things that are potentially leading to Miss Four being more emotional and these behavioural challenges that have been noticed since she started taking the antibiotics. One, it could be the infection itself and the discomfort, the fatigue that that is causing. Two, the antibiotics’ effect on gut microbes, on the gut microbiome, and how that could be leading to the mood and behavioural changes. And number three, something we don’t want to overlook is the potential additives that are included in the antibiotic medication. That could be triggering mood, and behavioural changes in children as well.
So it’s really important whenever we give our kids antibiotics which are necessary sometimes. That we are replenishing that good bacteria that the antibiotics are reducing in the gut microbiome with a probiotic supplement. A good quality probiotic supplement and or some fermented foods in the diet as well. I love to use it combination of both, and we really want to make sure we’re going for the good quality probiotics. Not just the cheapest thing we can find on the pharmacy shelf, or in the supermarket. We really want to make sure that we’re getting the good stuff in for our kids, particularly after a course of antibiotics.
I want to just talk about a service that we have available at Natural Super Kids, which is our Express Consultations. Designed for exact things like these:
- If you’re wanting to get a prescription for some good quality supplements.
- You’re wanting to get some professional advice from a naturopath on exactly what you should do for your particular child’s situation.
- If it’s just a quick question, such as “My child’s just been on antibiotics, I want to make sure that we’re replenishing their gut health. How can we do that?”
Then the Express Consultation is a great option for that. You get qualified advice, and you get access to the high quality practitioner-only products. But just make sure you are going for a good quality probiotic. And some fermented foods in the diet to help replenish that gut bacteria after any cause of antibiotics. It’s really important.
Let’s finish up with the three action steps. Three things that you can do and be aware of from what we’ve talked about in this episode:
- Only use antibiotics when absolutely necessary. Use your mother’s intuition. Get a second opinion, if you’re not sure. Talk to a naturopath or another qualified health practitioner if you’re wanting a different approach. Or to check whether there’s any alternatives to antibiotics for your child’s particular issue at the time. You often want to kind of get on to them as quickly as possible. Do consider getting a second opinion if it doesn’t feel right for you. Using antibiotics when absolutely necessary and getting a second opinion, if you feel that’s necessary as well.
- Be aware of the additives that we discussed. Additives, I think a lot of people are really aware that they’re in foods, processed foods. But we also need to make sure that we’re aware that there are additives in children’s medications as well. Ask your doctor or your pharmacist for a list of the ingredients in a particular medication and look food additives. Additives that we’re talking about that can be contained within medications. Some kids will be fine with them, other kids will be much more sensitive to them. And when I say that, we’ll be fine with them, I’m talking about sort of short term medication use. The majority of kids are going to cope with that okay, and the medication is probably going. The benefits are probably going to outweigh any negatives of food additives. But there certainly are some kids that are more sensitive to additives. And the lasting effect of additives in even a short course of medication like antibiotics can definitely be significant. So talk to your GP, or your pharmacist about your concerns about these additives. See if there’s an alternative that doesn’t contain additives if you feel like your child is sensitive to additives.
- Always follow antibiotics with a course of probiotics. To be more specific, I generally recommend a double dose of probiotics following a course of antibiotics for two weeks. Then at least another two weeks on just that recommended dose of probiotics. Make sure you’re choosing a good quality probiotic. Now that will depend based on where you live, and your child’s particular health concern. Your child’s particular state of their gut health. Always do think about seeking out professional advice and the Express Consult that we offer here at Natural Super Kids. All done online. The Express Consult is a great option for questions about your child’s gut health.
I really hope that has been helpful for you today and you’ve enjoyed today’s episode. Let us know if you’ve got any questions. All of the links that I have talked about in today’s episode are in the show notes. Head on over to naturalsuperkids.com/podcasts for all of the show notes and links for this episode.
Thanks for listening, and I’ll see you next week!