Devastating Arthritis in Children Starts at the Pediatrician

antibiotic use and juvenile arthritis

dalaprod / Dollar Photo Club

Arthritis in the typical 50 or 60 year old is not a surprise, but when it strikes our children it’s something to be heavily concerned about.

In general, arthritis that strikes our kids is going to fall into the auto-immune type where the immune system has turned in on itself, attacking the joints of your children when the immune system should otherwise know better.  The most common version of this is juvenile rheumatoid arthritis or juvenile idiopathic arthritis, but it doesn’t really matter what you call it–your child will experience pain that children should not experience.

Even worse, this early joint destruction is going to create a major issue years down the line, setting up children for more pain and disability as they age.  It is likely that these children will also have a later increased risk of heart disease.  All in all, not a good picture.

At this heart of all of this is a whacked out immune system.  You see, we have two main branches of the immune system–the cell-mediated Type 1 (I refer to this arm as the “attack dogs” – they attack anything that tries to invade your body) and humoral mediated Type 2 (I refer to these as the “guard dogs” – they try to keep everything from getting into the body in the first place.

Balance is key here.  You want your immune system to attack things that it should (like a bacteria or virus) and NOT attack things it shouldn’t be attacking (joints, thyroid, adrenal, DNA, connective tissue, etc…).  We ALL have some degree of immunity.  Our immune systems aren’t perfect–there are mistakes that occur, but a healthy functioning immune system keeps this autoimmune attack under control.

This proper balance is set up very early in life.  And if we don’t get it right in the first few years of life, the will be a near-lifetime battle to keep the immune system in check.

And there are some very, very, critically important things that happen (or don’t) to our little ones that will screw up immune balance for a lifetime.  Way up at the top of the list is antibiotic use.

Antibiotic use.  Not even overuse.  Just USE.

Yes–that seemingly benign treatment that pediatricians STILL hand out like candy absolutely decimates immune balance from the get-go.  I have said it before and I will say it again (and again and again):

There is nothing more devastating to the long term immune, gastrointestinal and neurological health of your child than exposing him or her to antibiotics in the first few years of life.  The first 2 years is likely the most critical, but exposure at any time during childhood can have an effect.

And all of this would not be so bad if antibiotics were used appropriately.  That means as narrow-spectrum as possible (sniper rifle instead of cannon) and only used when absolutely necessary.  As in life-threatening.  Despite decades now of an attempt by researchers and guidelines to get doctors to stop the overuse of antibiotics.  Despite marketing efforts geared towards getting the message to patients.  Despite all of this, doctors can’t seem to resist writing prescriptions for conditions like ear infections, upper respiratory infections and pharyngitis (including Strep throat).

And all along, the battle cry is “antibiotic resistance.”  Sad that the destruction of the microbiome is only now, almost a century later, being viewed as a consequence of antibiotic use.

All of this brings us to this particular article.  In it, researchers looked at the association of antibiotic use in children with juvenile arthritis.  Here’s what they found:

  • ANY antibiotic exposure was led to a scary 210% increased risk of a child developing juvenile idiopathic arthritis.
  • This risk went up with more courses of antibiotics, jumping to an increased risk of 300% with over 5 antibiotic courses.
  • The risk was strongest when those kids developed arthritis within one year of taking antibiotics.
  • It was NOT the infection itself (the risk did not change based on the number or type of infections).
  • To drive the idea that it was NOT the infection itself, those children who had antibiotic-treated upper respiratory tract infections were more strongly at risk for arthritis than untreated upper respiratory tract infections.

This is serious.  This is not about antibiotic resistance of thinking that antibiotics are needed for that sore throat.  This is about a near-permanent disruption of the delicate balance of the immune system in a child.

And this study does not stand alone.  Strong links with other autoimmune conditions like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are also known.  Overall, it is very, very clear that antibiotics are in no way benign.  Rather, they begin the process of the destruction of proper immune balance.  Even a single course is enough to tip the scales.  And don’t think for a minute that following up with probiotics will wipe out the bad effects of the antibiotics.  I firmly believe that it takes years of dedication to rebuild the microbiome after a single course of antibiotics.

That’s some serious stuff.


James Bogash

For more than a decade, Dr. Bogash has stayed current with the medical literature as it relates to physiology, disease prevention and disease management. He uses his knowledge to educate patients, the community and cyberspace on the best way to avoid and / or manage chronic diseases using lifestyle and targeted supplementation.