Do Childhood Infections Cause Mental Health Disorders?

When we think of the causes of mental health disorders, we oftentimes attribute them to our environment, level of resilience, any trauma experienced, and substance use. However, one research study has found a link between childhood infections and mental health issues. Learn more about this study and see if you could be at risk.

Key takeaways:

Childhood infections & mental health – research findings:

A research study conducted in Denmark found a relationship between childhood hospitalizations for infections with an increased likelihood to be hospitalized for a mental health disorder later down the line. In fact, being hospitalized for an infection during childhood increased a person’s risk of being hospitalized for a mental health concern by 84%, and it increased the likelihood of taking medication for a mental health issue by 42%.

Less severe infections increase these risks by 40% for hospitalizations due to mental health issues and 22% for medications to address mental health concerns. These risks varied a bit depending on the mental health disorder. Common mental health disorders that were linked to childhood infections included:

  • Autism
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Depression
  • Schizophrenia

Could this be a coincidence?

Despite the evidence of this research suggesting that childhood infections are the cause of mental health disorders, it leaves room for questions whether it is the infections themselves that are increasing the risks of having a mental health issue, or the treatments used to combat the infections.

The study did not have enough evidence to claim one or the other as being the cause. However, the research also found a relationship between antibiotics and a risk for increased mental health issues. The subjects in the research study had been treated prior to or while their risk for mental health concerns was assessed.

Impact of inflammation on the body

Inflammation is another component that comes with infections that may also have something to do with the increased risk for mental health issues. This is because inflammation can lead to a variety of diseases in the body. Inflammation could potentially impact the brain and stomach — which is where most of the body’s neurotransmitters responsible for mood and various aspects associated with mental health reside.

Antibiotics have also been known to impact the gut, or gastrointestinal tract (GI), by killing much of the body’s good gut bacteria that reside in the gut microbiome. These healthy bacteria are responsible for immunity, hormone regulation, and more. There is a direct connection between the GI and the brain. When one of these is out of balance, everything can become out of balance. Perhaps it is a combination of factors associated with both the side effects of having an infection and the treatments used that are to blame for the increased risk of developing mental health issues.

How to avoid mental health issues after an infection

Oftentimes, antibiotics are required to treat an infection, and so they are not always avoidable. However, there are a number of ways to offset some negative impacts.

The first and most important thing to do is to treat any cuts, scrapes, or wounds as soon as possible and keep them clean with rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide. The sooner a wound is treated and kept clean, the less likely the chance of an infection and subsequent course of antibiotics will be. If you have any symptoms of an internal infection, such as an ear infection, it’s important to seek medical care immediately.

Probiotics & prebiotics

Once treated with antibiotics, it’s important to replenish your gut with good bacteria again. It takes approximately two weeks for the body to recover from the negative side effects of antibiotics. Adding a prebiotic and probiotic to your daily health routine is a great way to help the body do this in a fast, healthy way. There are a variety of ways to get probiotics and prebiotics today, from health drinks to vitamin supplements, kefir, or yogurt. You can also get them from certain foods.

Foods that have probiotics and prebiotics in them include:

Probiotic-rich foodsMiso, sauerkraut, sourdough bread, aged cheese, kimchi, and pickles.
Prebiotic-rich foodsAsparagus, apples, garlic, barley, bananas, chicory root, onions, oats, soybeans, wheat, and dandelion greens.

It’s not only good to ensure that you include plenty of prebiotics and probiotics in your diet when you have an infection, but it’s a good idea to make this a regular part of your diet and health routine. They are powerful and can help prevent infections from forming in the first place. This is because prebiotics and probiotics encourage the growth of the good gut bacteria responsible for immunity.

It's always a great idea to take prebiotics and probiotics regularly to not only combat the effects of infection and antibiotics, but also to promote good mental health. Nootropic supplements have been found to help combat the symptoms of mental health disorders while bringing the body to a healthy state of balance within the microbiome. This is largely due to the inextricable connection between the gut and the brain.

Not all prebiotics and probiotics are created equally

It's important to note that not all supplements and grocery products are created equally. Some are made with genetically modified organisms that have weed killer engineered into the foods and have been linked with poor health outcomes. Therefore, it’s important to ensure that the products, groceries, and produce that you buy are organic and ethically sourced.

Eating organic while taking special care of your gut health is one of the best ways to equip your body with the tools it needs to withstand infections and symptoms of mental health disorders. When buying supplements choose the best probiotics for your kids.

If you’re experiencing any symptoms of infection or mental distress, it’s important to seek help immediately. The sooner you treat any issues and get on the right track toward a healthy microbiome, the better you will feel mentally and physically, and the less likely you will be to face further negative health consequences.

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