Do You Really Want That Tablet?

Each year in Australia about 19 million prescriptions are written for antibiotics. This is enough for eight of every ten Australian’s to have taken antibiotics during the year. It unfortunately is high enough to also give Australia one of the highest rates of antibiotic usage in the world.

There is definitely a time and place for antibiotic usage. I’ve spoken before [about the nearly 80% improvement in life expectancy for patients with pneumonia] after the discovery of antibiotics, and without antibiotics wounds infected with Staphylococcus aureus, a common form of bacteria on the skin, was fatal in 80% of cases. Antibiotics allow improved recovery after surgery, and prevent many hospital related infections and associated deaths.

The problem though, is that we have an antibiotic obsession! The Medical Journal of Australia in 2014 reported that doctor’s prescribed antibiotics in 90.6% cases of acute bronchitis in adults. This, despite their being zero evidence that antibiotics are useful treating bronchitis and despite official recommendations that antibiotics should NOT be prescribed for bronchitis.

Most telling is the opinion poll associated with the journal article. This informal poll, revealed that 44% of respondents thought antibiotic usage was still so high not due to genuine clinical need (4%) but because of patient expectation. In short, doctors prescribed antibiotics because they thought patients WANTED antibiotics and NOT because they NEEDED antibiotics.

Antibiotic treatment, even short-term antibiotic treatment, is not without side effects. One study found that after only seven days of antibiotic treatment, damage done to the gut and intestinal flora was not reversed even after two years.

Most at risk for adverse side effects from antibiotic treatment are young children. For example:

  • antibiotic exposure increases the risk of eczema out breaks in children by up to 40% with each extra antibiotic course increasing that risk even further.
  • frequent use of antibiotics can increase children’s risk of inflammatory bowel disease. Children who had seven or more courses of antibiotics were 200% more likely to develop inflammatory bowel disease than children who received no antibiotics.

I always recommend balancing use of antibiotics against genuine need. Make sure you understand the different signs and symptoms so that you know when you genuinely need antibiotics. The common cold and flu is viral, no matter how much you might want antibiotics they won’t make you feel any better.

If you do need to take antibiotics make sure to take a good probiotic at the same time to try and maintain levels of good bacteria. Separate when you take your probiotic from when you take your antibiotic by at least two hours, and ideally try to take the probiotic first thing in the morning.

While you are taking antibiotics it’s also a good time to add extra fermented foods to your diet, things like yoghurt, sauerkraut, and kefir. You can easily find these in most super markets or health food stores and include a serving at each main meal.

With the damage that antibiotics do to the lining of the gut I always recommend you take gut healing herbs and nutrients once your antibiotic course is complete. Good herbs and nutrients for this include glutamine, zinc, aloe vera and boswellia.

Remember, prevention is far better than cure. If you or your child regularly require antibiotics your immune system may need extra support. I use nutritional and herbal medicine to help build immune function and prevent colds and flus from taking hold.