THRIVE | Antibiotics can actually ‘depress’ immune system

I left off last month’s “Thrive!” column asking a simple question as it relates to childhood ear infections and the established medical treatment of childhood ear infections with antibiotics.

The question we asked was, “If antibiotics are known to not work well, known to have short- and long-term side effects and known to contribute to what is now a major public health crisis (antibiotic-resistant strains, or ‘super bugs’), then why are we continuing to use them at increasing rates?”

In fact, you may be surprised at just how ineffective antibiotics are for childhood ear infections: The Journal of the American Medical Association, long regarded by many as a top medical journal, had this to say about ear infections and antibiotics: “Antibiotic therapy is not an effective treatment against otitis media (ear infections), and rates of recurrent infections are significantly higher in children who have been treated with antibiotics.”

Additionally, William Belanky, M.D., was quoted about the subject, “Chronic middle-ear problems in children have not diminished, despite the number of antibiotics being used to treat them. We have created a whole new kind of ear problem. We have used antibiotics so excessively in the first year of life that we have depressed the development of the child’s immune system.” 

What studies show

As we continue this conversation, we begin to bring up some basic questions about how medicine should work. One side, mainstream medicine, promotes the notion that it alone should be considered “real” medicine, but more of this claim is being exposed as an officially sanctioned myth.

The case of antibiotics for ear infections is a classic case. In the mainstream medical world, if a pill, antibiotic or surgery won’t do the trick, nothing will. But that’s not necessarily true. Many integrative, complementary and alternative health practices have much higher success rates with childhood ear infections than antibiotic therapy does.

The British Medical Journal recently undertook a general analysis of common medical treatments to determine which are supported by sufficient reliable evidence. They evaluated around 2,500 treatments, and the results are as follows:

•13 percent were found to be beneficial;

•23 percent were likely to be beneficial;

•8 percent were as likely to be harmful as beneficial;

•6 percent were unlikely to be beneficial;

•4 percent were likely to be harmful;

What do these numbers have to do with you and your children’s health?

It means when you take your sick child to the hospital or medical clinic, there is only a 36-percent chance he or she will receive a treatment that has been scientifically demonstrated to be either beneficial or likely to be beneficial. These results are remarkably similar to the results of Dr. Brian Berman, who found in his analysis that 38 percent of medical treatments were positive and 62 percent were negative or showed “no evidence of effect.”

What does all this have to do with ear infections, allergies and asthma? 

A cascade of problems

Like I stated in my column last month, it starts with how we birth and deliver our babies. The typical American child who had a rough birth has a subluxation or “kink” in their neck, keeps getting ear infections, gets multiple rounds of antibiotics and finally hears it’s time to get tubes put in. Each year in the United States, more than 1 million children get tubes in their ears. But they get ice cream afterward (even though dairy causes excess mucus production and immune reactions and is a major problem with ear infections and other respiratory illness).

The earaches are gone, but where is the fluid going? It’s going down the “drain” to the throat. Strep infections become more common in children with ear-tube surgery, as well as tonsil and adenoid surgery. The fact is, once the tubes are drilled into the ears and that fluid is forced out of them, it has to go somewhere.

Ear infections and tubes set the stage for developing and acquiring lifelong asthma and immune challenges. If this subluxation (“kink”) is still in the neck and spine, then the drainage and immune function are still compromised.

Essentially, they are sick now every, single day of their life and require Advair, Flovent, Singulair, inhalers, etc. They can’t run without challenges; they can’t go outside without challenges. Spring and fall are nightmares for them due to “allergies,” as they’re now called.

What started out as a short-term, acute problem that could have been fixed for good with some improved plumbing and immune function is now a lifelong chronic illness and immune dysfunction. What was once a kid who struggled for a night or two with pain and discomfort, is now a kid who struggles every single day of their life.

It’s a “perfect storm” in its own right. And one that continues to plague an ever-increasing number of our children today. You have a right to be shocked by these findings and by the overall picture of a system that benefits far fewer patients than it claims.

DR. NATE CLEM is a chiropractor specializing in pediatrics and family wellness at Discovery Wellness Center ( in Queen Anne. To comment on this column, write to