The major factors influencing the development of the immune system in the perinatal period include:  the parents’ health;  the health, diet, drug and alcohol use of the mother during pregnancy;  the type of infant feeding at breast or bottle;  the child’s diet;  and the use of antibiotics and vaccines.  This paper presents a brief overview of the role of each of these influences, with some suggestions for maximizing immune system health.


There are two major definitions of the immune system and its function.  The best known states that its major role is in distinguishing self from non-self.  It is a function, a system of communication between cells and organs. Immunologist Steven B. Mizel, in his book In Self Defense, states “Immune cells engage in something very much like conversation:  an elaborate network of announcements, commands, and counter-commands.  The placement, the timing, and the nature of every signal is exquisitely precise;  the effect of a single command extremely powerful.”[i]    This conversation happens throughout the body, but most particularly between the lymphatic system with its lymph nodes; the blood stream with its white blood cells (lymphocytes), B and T cells, and antibodies;  the spleen, the thymus, the mucosal lining of the respiratory system and the intestines, and possibly even other organs made of lymphatic tissue such as the tonsils, the adenoids, and the appendix.

Matzinger and  Fuchs delineate a more inclusive function of the immune system:  its purpose is to protect the individual from harm or danger.  Their definition of danger is “anything that causes cell stress or necrotic cell death,” as opposed to normal, programmed cell death.  The danger is sensed by the tissues themselves and communicated to the immune system cells, which become activated as necessary [ii].

Human beings are born with a digestive system, respiratory system, excretory system, and sensory apparatus that are already working from birth on.  These systems cannot be forced to work;  they either do or they don’t.   They can be helped along with drugs, herbs, exercise, glasses, hearing aids, and the like;  but essentially the function of each organ systems is inborn.   It is the same with the immune system:

  • It is there from birth.
  • It cannot be forced to exist where it doesn’t.
  • It can be helped along and allowed to flourish.
  • It can be disturbed, confused, inappropriately challenged, or not given what it needs to develop.

A number of factors influence the immune system both before and after birth.  These factors are:  the parent’s health;  the mother’s nutrition and lifestyle during pregnancy (including the use of alcohol and pharmacological or recreational drugs);  breast-feeding or the lack of it;  the child’s diet;  and the use of antibiotics and vaccines.


Healthy parents provide the genetic material to make a healthy child.  During pregnancy, the developing fetus can be affected by the pregnant woman’s dietary and other health habits.  Alcohol use during pregnancy, which is usually associated with poor nutritional status, may lead to the condition known as fetal alcohol syndrome.  This condition is characterized by growth deficiencies, central nervous system disfunction, poor coordination, hyperactivity, learning difficulties, and developmental delays[iii].

Both medical and recreational drugs can affect the developing child’s health. The most dramatic example was Thalidomide, an anti-nausea drug given to pregnant women in the Sixties;  babies born to these women had deformed, undeveloped, flipper-like arms.  During the 40’s and 50’s, women who appeared at risk for miscarriage were given DES (Diethylstilbestrol), now no longer prescribed.  The children of those women, known as DES babies, developed cancer and other illnesses of their reproductive organs in their adolescence and young adulthood; others had a higher prevalence of autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and pernicious anemia[iv];  there were higher rates of unfavorable pregnancy outcomes and psychiatric illnesses in DES daughters, and more testicular cancer, infertility, and less heterosexual experiences in sons[v] [vi].

The use of prescription drugs during pregnancy has been studied extensively.  As drugs invariably cross the placenta[vii], they will affect the baby one way or another;  however, there is little general agreement about the seriousness or extent of the damage, or even if any occurs.  Some studies have found an association between prescription and other drug use by pregnant women and certain problems in their babies, such as birth defects and musculoskeletal changes[viii], toxic effects on the heart[ix], and adverse effects on the brain and central nervous system[x].  Approximately 10% of birth defects are associated with exposure to environmental substances including drugs.[xi]  See chart 1 for a list of medications that could cause birth defects.

3.1.  Breast Feeding

The most important of all perinatal variables for a healthy immune system is breast feeding.  In the first few days, “before the milk comes in,” the breasts secrete the highly nutritious liquid known as colostrum.  This substance clears the mucus and meconium out of the baby’s digestive system and sets up the appropriate intestinal flora which protects the child against digestive disorders.  Colostrum contains the mother’s immunity factors, including immunoglobulins IgA and IgM[xii], which will protect the child against many varieties of infections.

As the milk comes in, it brings immunity factors that are specifically formulated for this mother’s infant.  As she is exposed to the various toxins and pathogens around her infant, as she holds, kisses, and nuzzles him, she breathes in the air and particles around him;  both her milk-producing glands and her immune system then create the specific antibodies needed by the baby, and these go through the milk into the child[xiii].  Stored breast milk, however, is not as effective, as studies have shown that its cellular components destabilize after heating, and cannot tolerate either boiling or freezing[xiv].

Lawrence found that breast milk is protective against the following virus and bacteria:  poliovirus, E. coli, staphylococci, Enterobacteriaceae, Candida albicans, Salmonella, herpes virus, leukemia virus, influenza, and many others.  In addition, the breastfed infant’s intestinal flora is composed almost entirely of Lactobacillus bifidus, which inhibits the growth of pathogenic bacteria.  The bottle-fed infant’s colon one tenth of the bifido-bacteria, and more enterobacteria which is associated with more illness[xv].

Human milk has never been shown to cause allergy, whereas cow’s milk allergy is common.  Among the symptoms associated with these allergies we can count digestive distress (colic, diarrhea, spitting up and vomiting, colitis), skin rashes, runny noses,  chronic cough and mucus, slow growth, and sudden infant death.  Sudden infant death is extremely rare among breastfed infants[xvi].  Margaret K. Davis at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD, found that infants bottle-fed or breast-fed for less than six months had an increased risk for lymphoma and other cancers.  Her evidence suggested that breast fed infants are “less severely affected by infections in infancy than are artificially-fed infants.  The type of infant feeding may affect later obesity, cancer, and diabetes mellitus.”  The study established that “human milk has substantial antimicrobial effects;”  therefore, “if human milk increases resistance to infections in infancy, artificial feeding, which provides no immunological benefits, may alter the child’s responses to early infection.”[xvii]

Essentially, mother’s milk does two things besides providing perfect nourishment:  it provides immune factors, and it doesn’t make the child sick.  Formula allows for sickness also through two aspects:  it provides no immunities and it has the potential for actually causing illness and allergies.

Breast feeding is best instituted immediately after delivery.  In order to maintain an abundance of milk, no supplementary bottles or solids should be given to the baby for 6 months.  Once solid foods are introduced, breast feeding can continue for as long as mother and child want, in a gradually decreasing manner.

3.2.  Diet

Diet is an important variables for children’s health.   Giving them natural, unprocessed foods is an essential element for strengthening their immune system.  Natural food always has nutrients not yet discovered.  In factory-processed foods, the law allows a certain amount of rodent hairs, insect fragments, and assorted other impurities considered harmless in most canned or frozen foods[xviii].

For good nutrition and a strong immune system, children need:

  • Fresh, natural foods
  • Vegetables (cooked and raw)
  • Whole grains and breads
  • Protein foods: beans, fresh fish, naturally raised fowl or meats
  • Fruits, nuts and seeds
  • No milk products if the child is prone to infections[xix]

3.3.  Chemicals in the food

Chemicals in the food include pesticides, herbicides, colorings, preservatives, and other additives.  Practically all the man-made pesticides used on our food supply are known toxins, and have been associated with cancers[xx], birth defects, liver toxicity, peripheral and central neurological problems,  and reproductive problems in both animals and humans.regulations [xxi].    Because they eat more food relative to their body size, children are in greater danger from pesticides;  the 1993 report of the National Academy of Sciences, Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children, states that low but steady exposure to pesticides early in life can lead to a greater risk of cancer, neurological impairment, and immune dysfunction.

Fruits and vegetables are most commonly contaminated, but so are grains and meats, fish that have been caught in polluted areas, as well as imported unregulated produce.  The NAS further states that exposure to common levels of pesticides in available foods might be high enough for some children to cause symptoms of acute pesticide poisoning[xxii].  The best way to  avoid chemicals in the children’s food is to purchase only organic produce, grains, beans, nuts, and to buy products from animals allowed to graze or run, fed natural chemical-free food, and not given any antibiotics.

3.4.  Antibiotics

Antibiotics, discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1928, have been in widespread use since the mid-1940’s.  In 1957, Leo Schindel, MD, published a review of the medical literature on the effects of thirteen different categories of antibiotics, including penicillin, streptomycin, tetracyclines, erythromycin, bacitracin, and polymyxin.  He found a large number of “unexpected reactions” duly described in the journals (see chart 2).Schindel also points out that “most of the resistant strains of staphylococci are to be found in hospitals, especially in surgical and pediatric wards”[xxiii].

This review study is credible because it dealt with studies made in the early days of antibiotic use, shortly after World War II, and the adverse events could be clearly noted in populations exposed to the drugs as compared to those not exposed.  Current studies would be more difficult to evaluate, as antibiotic use is widespread throughout the world and it is nearly impossible to find non-exposed individuals as controls.

Antibiotics eradicate beneficial bacteria in the intestines, including the bacteria that help synthesize nutrients such as vitamin K, biotin, riboflavin, pyridoxine, and folic acid.  For that reason, frequent antibiotic use results in vitamin deficiencies because of the inability of the intestines to synthesize or absorb these nutrients.  Amoxicyllin in particular reduces drastically the numbers of the helpful bacteria, such as the important lactobacillus types[xxiv].

In chronic infections where they have been used repeatedly with minimal success, the use of antibiotics is questionable, if not damaging[xxv].

3.5.  Vaccines

The immune system can also be damaged by vaccinations, especially live and attenuated viral vaccines.

The Institute of Medicine in a 1994 publication, recognized 20 different possible adverse effects of commonly administered vaccines;  11 of these are neurological damage.  Also recognized was the fact that there are not enough studies in many cases to either establish or dismiss the vaccines as being the cause of these common adverse effects [xxvi] (See chart 3)

Live or attenuated viral vaccines can be particularly dangerous, according to Professor Richard DeLong, a retired microbiologist formerly of the University of Toledo and Del Mar College, and author of Live Viral Vaccines:  Biological Pollution.  (Live or attenuated viral vaccines include the oral [Sabin] polio, measles, mumps, rubella, varicella [chicken pox], influenza, and hepatitis A.)   These vaccines can

  • cause mutations
  • cause chromosomal aberrations
  • cause birth defects
  • cause cancer
  • cause new diseases
  • revert to virulence
  • be contaminated with other viruses and other microbes.[xxvii]

Professor DeLong theorizes that live viral vaccines  originate new diseases in four different ways (see chart #4)

Other recognized adverse effects of vaccines that relate to the immune system include swelling, redness, induration, high fevers, inflammation, and immediate and delayed-type hypersensitivities.[xxviii],[xxix]

Clearly, we need much more information on the real effect of vaccines and antibiotics on the immune system of children..

3.6.  Natural remedies

The childrens immune system should be allowed to do exercise by recuperating from minor illnesses on its own, with the help of soups, herbs, and natural remedies, instead of being pushed and pulled by pharmaceutical drugs, all of which have adverse effects.  These drugs are best left for serious illness and life or death matters where the benefits outweigh the risks.

The following are essential to avoid the occurrence of  infections:

  • Good nutrition
  • Enough rest
  • Fresh air and exercise
  • No milk products

To manage minor illnesses, the following can be used:[xxx]

  • Natural home remedies (garlic, soups, teas, lemon, fasting)
  • Herbs
  • Homeopathy, naturopathy
  • Massage, chiropractic

Considering that chronic immune and autoimmune diseases are a modern phenomenon, it is the author’s suggestion that more study is needed to ascertain their connection with iatrogenic factors and bottle feeding.


The basic needs for a healthy immune system are:  Healthy parents;  nourishing food, no alcohol or drugs during pregnancy;  breast-feeding for at least six months.  The immune benefits of breast-feeding include: Colostrum colonizes the intestinal flora for life; the mother’s own immunities are passed on;  the mother continuously creates new immune factors based on the environment; mother’s milk does not make children sick.

For good nutrition and a strong immune system, children need fresh, natural foods:  vegetables (cooked and raw), whole grains and breads, protein foods (beans, fresh fish, naturally raised fowl or meats), fruits, nuts and seeds, and no milk products if the child is prone to infections.

Among the influences that damage the immune system are

1) Chemicals in the food;

2)  Antibiotics;

3)  Vaccinations.

  1. Chemicals in the food can cause cancers, birth defects, liver toxicity, peripheral and central neurological problems, reproductive problems in both animals and humans, and immune malfunction.
  2. Antibiotics damage the immune system because they damage the intestinal flora, destroy beneficial bacteria as well as harmful ones, and create resistance in pathogenic bacteria.
  3. Vaccines also damage the immune system.  There are numerous different possible adverse effects associated with commonly administered vaccines, including anaphylaxis, inflammation, immediate and delayed hypersensitivities, urticaria, seizure disorder, brain damage, and death.  There are not enough studies in many cases to either establish or dismiss the vaccines as being the cause of these common adverse effects.   Live viral vaccines can cause mutations, chromosomal aberrations,  birth defects, cause cancer, and new diseases.  They can also revert to virulence, and be contaminated with other viruses and other microbes.

More study is needed to ascertain the role of iatrogenicity in immune disorders.


–  Androgens (male hormones),

–  some antibiotics (tetracycline, streptomycin, gentamicin, kanamycin, erythromycin estolate, nalidixic acid, nitrofurantoin);

–  some anticoagulant drugs (dicumarol, warfarin);

–  some antiepilepsy drugs (Dilantin);

– benzodiazepines (Valium, Librium);

–  some thyroid drugs (propylthiouracil, iodide, methimazole);

–  tolbutamide;

–  trimethadione (Tridione) and paramethadione (Paradione);

–  valproic acid (Depakene);

– corticosteroids (including cortisone cream or ointments);

–  diethylstilbestrol (DES);

–  isotretinoin (Accutane);

–  lindane (Kwell);

–  lithium;

–  meprobamate (Miltown);

– podophyllin;

–  thalidomide;

–  alcohol,

–  vitamin A,

–  warfarin,

–  hypoglycemics (i.e., insulin),

–  non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) (including aspirin and ibuprofen).

–  some cancer chemotherapy drugs (methotrexate, aminopterin);

–  chlorpropamide;

–  estrogens,

–  organic mercury compounds,

–   inhalational anesthetics,

–  live vaccines (such as polio),

–  penicillamine,

–  progestogens,

–  progesterone (high doses),

–  radiographic contrast

materials (e.g., barium)

Chart 1.  Medications that can cause birth defects


– Encephalopathy (acute and chronic)

– aseptic meningitis

– subacute sclerosing panencephalitis

– residual (chronic) seizure disorder

– Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS)

– transverse myelitis

– paralytic poliomyelitis (in recipient or contact)

– myelitis

– neuropathy


– optic neuritis

– sensorineural deafness

– sterility via orchitis

– anaphylaxis (cessation of breathing)

– arthritis

– erythema multiforme

– insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus

– early susceptibility to Hib disease

– thrombocytopenia

– death

1)  Gene recombination occurring among two or more different viruses infecting the same cell;

2)  Contaminating viruses in the live vaccine from the cells that were used to produce the vaccine

3)  Vaccine viruses changing their genes during reproduction in the in vitro phase of vaccine production

4)  Vaccine viruses changing their genes during in vivo reproduction in the vaccine recipient.

Richard DeLong, Live Viral Vaccines:  Biological Pollution.  A Hearthstone Book, Carlton Press Corp, New York, NY: 1996.


Chart 2.  Unexpected reactions to antibiotics

Allergic reactions:

– changes in the skin,

– contact dermatitis,

– “hairy” or “black”             tongue,

– development of fungi in the mucous membranes,

– gastrointestinal disturbances;

–  inflammation of the stomach and pharynx;

–  urticaria,

–  itching,

–  herpes simplex,

–  rosaceaform dermatitis,


– acute fungus infections of the skin;

– edema with swellings of lips, eyes, mouth, tongue, or epiglottis;

–  anaphylactic shock

–  sudden death.


Specific organ reactions:

– Most frequent allergic manifestations: Asthma and hay fever

– pulmonary symptoms,

– changes of the blood, liver, veins, arteries;

– increased tendency of the blood to clot faster than usual;

–  narrowing of the coronary arteries with subsequent heart damage (author’s emphasis);

–  damage to the kidneys;

–  toxic reactions in the central nervous system such as convulsions and coma;

–  restlessness, hallucinations, psychosis;

–  endocarditis,

–  infections of the kidneys,


– infections of the genital organs;

– staphylococcal gastro-enterocolitis (a complication of tetracycline therapy), which manifests as fever, nausea, vomiting, flatulence, diarrhea, and collapse.


Leo Schindel, MD,  Unexpected reactions to Modern Therapeutics:  Antibiotics.  (C. Thomas, Springfield, IL:  1957)

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