Karen Jensen, ND
What is happening to the health of our children? Prescription drugs are now used by one million Canadian children. Each year, four million prescriptions are dispensed to children.
What is happening to the health of our children? Prescription drugs are now used by one million Canadian children. Each year, four million prescriptions are dispensed to children. In February 2004 CBC news reported that the number of children harmed by prescription drug reactions has tripled since 1997.
What has caused the increase in prescription drugs for children?
The Sweet Poison
In the US 153 pounds of sugar per person per year is consumed, and many young people consume up to 50 percent of their calories from sugar. Sugar Blues by William Duffy (Warner Books, 1975) suggests that sugar suppresses the immune system. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that 100 grams of sugar derived from glucose, fructose, sucrose, honey, or orange juice caused a significant decrease in the ability of white blood cells to destroy bacteria.
It is believed that the consumption of excess sugar is linked to mineral imbalances, obesity, food allergies, asthma, tooth decay, eczema, and headaches; some people consider it a poison–one that’s making our children sick.
Do Bugs Really Need Drugs?
Today, antibiotics save lives and reduce suffering. These drugs can continue to do so–but only if they are not overused or abused. However, a US congressional hearing and several academic studies have found that 40 to 60 percent of all antibiotics are, in fact, misprescribed.
The greatest increase in antibiotic use is for children under five, and some researchers fear that drug-resistant strains could soon develop among Canadian preschoolers.
In Canada, overall antibiotic use in children under age 19 dropped by one-third between 1995 and 2002. However, the bad news is that the number of prescriptions for broad-spectrum antibiotics soared more than 12-fold during the same period to treat common childhood illnesses such as acute ear infections.
Although the most common use of antibiotics in children is for ear infections, researchers question whether antibiotics are actually a contributing factor to frequently occurring acute otitis media (middle ear infection). In one study, middle ear infection rates were significantly higher in children treated with antibiotics than in the placebo group. Children receiving antibiotics for chronic middle ear infections experienced two to six times the rate of recurrence as children who didn’t take antibiotics.
Antibiotics are routinely prescribed for strep throat, often before the laboratory tests confirm that diagnosis. According to one study, 80 percent of the time antibiotics were prescribed but not needed, because the culture came back negative for bacterial infection.
Prescribed Behaviour Modification
Excess sugar is considered the culprit in cases such as depression, antisocial behaviour, hyperactivity, anxiety, difficulty in maintaining concentration, drowsiness, and irritability in children. The use of psychotropic medications (medications which act on the mind) in the very young is on the rise. Between 1993 and 1997, there was a three-fold increase in the use of the central-nervous-system stimulant methylphenidate in Canada and, in the US, a 10-fold increase in the use of SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, a class of antidepressants) for children five years and younger.
However, the validity and reliability of diagnoses of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in the very young has not been demonstrated, and yet in1996 the US Medicaid system found that physicians prescribed one or more of some 22 different medications to five percent of ADHD-diagnosed children under three years of age. No scientific literature exists to support the use of these medications in the treatment of children that young. Furthermore, research has not shown whether these drugs have long-term effects on neurological or liver function–or even if they are helpful in treating mood disorders.
Since there is little clinical research on the consequences of the pharmacological treatment of behavioural disturbances in very young children, should we be concerned about these prescribing practices?
The Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry reported in 2000 that psychotropic drugs carry potential for abuse. The American Drug Enforcement Administration reported that in trials on humans no difference could be found between the pharmaceutical stimulants (such as methylphenidate) and cocaine when these substances were administered in comparable doses. The withdrawal symptoms from the pharmaceutical drugs could be just as harsh as the ones experienced by cocaine addicts, even causing depression or suicide.
Nutrition Affects Immunity
Healthy food, fresh air and natural light, water, and adequate rest are the key ingredients for health. However, added health insurance is available in the way of various nutritional supplements.
Despite the abundance of food in our country, nutritional deficiency is common. Many North Americans do not meet the recommended daily intakes for nutrients including B vitamins, vitamins C, E, and A, calcium, magnesium, zinc, and selenium. A deficiency of almost any of the essential nutrients has an effect on the manner in which the host–your child’s body–responds to an infectious agent.
The World Health Organization has stated, “the best vaccine against common infectious disease is an adequate diet.” A diet adequate in essential nutrients can be enhanced with essential fatty acids (EFAs), probiotics, and vitamin and mineral supplements.
Deficiencies of EFAs can cause neurological abnormalities as well as a weak immune system. Whole food sources of EFAs include meat, fish, eggs, raw nuts, raw seeds, and green vegetables.
Probiotics are being studied for their role in the treatment of autism and other autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). There are a variety of good probiotic formulas available at health food stores. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for dosage.
Vitamin C (100 mg per kg of body weight) is helpful to support the immune system. Higher doses (to bowel tolerance, that is, until flatulence or diarrhea occur) can be given in cases of acute infections. One study suggests that vitamin C, when used along with an antibiotic, may be associated with a 3- to 15-fold rise in blood levels of the antibiotic. An elevated blood level would not only optimize antibiotic effectiveness but also minimize negative intestinal effects since duration of intake could be reduced.
Help for Little Ears
Ear oils containing herbs such as plantain (Plantago major), camomile (Matricaria chamomilla), or garlic are effective for many cases of ear infection. Most health food stores carry these ear oils.
The following homeopathic remedies are also very effective in treating ear infections:
Give the child three pellets of the chosen remedy four to five times daily, at least 15 minutes away from food or drink (with the exception of water).
You can use these homeopathic remedies and the ear oil at the same time, along with extra vitamin C and zinc.
Natural Immune Boosters
Numerous clinical studies have shown that echinacea can reduce the duration of upper respiratory tract infections and reduce the severity of symptoms. Take echinacea as directed on the manufacturer’s label. I suggest the remedy be given one week on, one week off (to prevent overstimulation of the immune system) for a period of six to eight weeks during the fall and spring, which are often the seasons for childhood infections.
Zinc gives the immune system an additional boost by assisting the development of T-cells, which destroy body cells that have been infected by viruses and other invading micro-organisms. Give 10 to 20 mg per day for children with acute infections for up to one to two weeks. Zinc lozenges are also available.
Vitamin A protects the mucous membranes of the mouth, nose, throat, and lungs, helping to prevent invasion by disease-causing bacteria. It also stimulates numerous immune responses, including white blood cell count, T-lymphocyte production, and the antibody response.
A good sugar-free multivitamin for children is basic nutritional health insurance, and it can be taken on a daily basis.
Disease, illness, and infections are not caused by a deficiency of antibiotics, or tranquilizers, or other prescription medications. They are signals telling us that a biochemical imbalance has caused various reactions in the body. A healthy diet and lifestyle and the inclusion of basic nutritional supplements may prevent many common health problems in children. More important, it may keep them off potentially dangerous prescription drugs.