If you’ve been following the news lately you’ve probably read some of the alarming headlines about the impending demise of antibiotics. In a post antibiotic world the media warns, previously simple accidents, like falling off a bike and scraping a knee, have the potential to become life threatening due to the risk of infection that can no longer be treated using antibiotics.
Before the discovery of antibiotics in the late 1930’s that Staphylococcus aureus, a bacterium found on the surface of the skin, was fatal in 80% of infected wounds. Equally dangerous pneumonia, was virtually a death sentence, and not just in the elderly or immuno compromised individuals. In the pre-antibiotic world less than 20% of those with pneumonia would live for more than 20 days once the infection got into the blood stream.
In fact, much of the life expectancy that you enjoy today is due to the use of antibiotics.
The problem though, is that widespread use and overuse of antibiotics have led to many bacteria developing resistance to not just front line antibiotics, but even some of our last resort antibiotics. This in turn leads to a post antibiotic world. A world where the antibiotics we have so long relied on, are no longer effective against the superbugs.
Unfortunately, antibiotic resistance doesn’t just affect the regular users of antibiotics —everybody is affected. As the bacteria are passed from person to person, even those who rarely use antibiotics will find themselves picking up antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria.
Antibiotic resistance is a truly global health problem. The World Health Organisation tracked common bacteria, including those responsible for pneumonia and influenza infections, across different regions of the world finding antibiotic resistant species in all parts of the world.
What Causes Antibiotic Resistance?
The difficulty in preventing antibiotic resistance is that in their early days, antibiotics proved to be too effective for their own good.
There is no denying that when it came to improving survival antibiotics were a major step forward. With the introduction of penicillin, the long term survival rate of patients with pneumonia went from less than 20% to well over 80%. As a result, of this effectiveness, antibiotics are now used everywhere and for everything!
Every day we are consuming or being exposed to low doses for antibiotics from any number of sources. For example in the United States 13.1 million kilograms of antibacterial drugs is sold for animal use, compared to the 3.3 million kilograms for human use. That means over 70% of the antibiotics manufactured are entering our food chain, unknowingly providing daily, low dose exposure to antibiotics via the food you eat.
Have you heard the saying what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger?* This is also true for bacteria. Each dose of antibiotics that might not be quite strong enough to kill, will provide bacteria with the opportunity to adapt.
This is exactly what the daily low dose exposure from the antibiotics in food products is doing. Every day that you eat food exposed to antibiotic agents, any bacteria in your body are exposed to low doses of antibiotics allowing the development of resistance.
Research also shows it’s not just animal products that are contaminated by antibiotics. Manure, from antibiotic fed animals, is used as fertiliser by plant growers. The antibiotics are absorbed by the plants through the growing season and have been found at measurable levels in corn, green onion, cabbage, lettuce, and potato.
Food isn’t the only source of low dose exposure to antibiotic agents in our modern lifestyles. Cashing in on our obsession with hygiene manufacturers now include antibiotic agents in products ranging from hand sanitizer and cleaning products through to kitchenware and even the use of triclosan in socks and underwear.
The continual low dose exposure to antibiotic agents in household and personal items provides bacteria with endless opportunity to adapt and evolve in exactly the same way as those in food.
Is It Too Late to Turn the Tide?
Is the post antibiotic world an inevitable part of our future? Have we passed the point of no return?
No matter how you look at it, our reliance on antibiotics for every cold, sniffle, or infection has to change. Either, we’ll make a global change to eliminate unnecessary exposure to antibiotics and preserve some of our antibiotic arsenal, or we’ll continue as we have so far and have no choice in the matter.
Individually we can make choices to reduce our exposure to antibiotics and antibiotic agents by:
- avoiding antibiotics in our food by eating organic
- utilising non-toxic, antibiotic free household products
- choosing natural remedies as our first line of defense.
Will this turn the tide on antibiotic resistant super bugs? I doubt it. The problems of anti bacterial agent usage are so wide spread that it’s not just ourselves we are polluting but the environment as well with antibacterial agents including triclosan being found in animals like dolphins.
What to Use Instead of Antibiotics
In my mind, the battle has already been lost. The only logical step now is to determine how we can survive without relying on antibiotics.
The first step is to make sure your internal terrain is correct. Excluding accident and injury, the most common reason why antibiotics become necessary is because your immune system has become run down. This allows bad bacteria and pathogens to take hold.
I’ve previously covered the fundamentals of maintaining a healthy immune system. But, what can you do to tackle acute infection without antibiotics?
Well fortunately, the post antibiotic world isn’t all doom and gloom. In fact, there are quite a lot of options for the treatment of bacterial infection without antibiotics. Some of my personal favourites include:
Garlic – allicin (one of the active constituents in garlic) is highly anti bacterial and anti fungal. It is even effective in treating drug resistant forms of E. coli. Allicin is not heat stable so either crush cloves of fresh garlic or take a garlic tablet or capsule. For a great flu remedy using garlic try our flu bomb
Echinacea – is one of the most important herbs in our herbal medicine dispensary and one that get’s a lot of use during the winter months. While garlic and colloidal silver target the bacteria directly, echinacea works on the immune system by boosting the number and function of natural killer (NK) cells which are the white blood cells responsible for attacking invading pathogens.
Colloidal silver – has a long history of anti bacterial use going back to the 18th century as a treatment for ulcers. It’s usage dropped off in the early 20th century as antibiotic use became more widespread. However, colloidal silver is enjoying a resurgence as antibiotic resistance increases. Colloidal silver is not just an antibiotic replacement —researchers from America have found that it can also increase the effectiveness of pharmaceutical antibiotics by breaking apart the cell membrane allowing pharmaceutical antibiotics to bypass the safety mechanisms bacteria have developed.
Medicinal mushrooms – Medicinal mushrooms have been used for thousands of years for immune system health. Cordyceps, Coriolus, Reishi and Shitake are four of my favourites. These are among the most widely studied and clinically proven of the medicinal mushrooms and all have demonstrated remarkable potency in the resolution of chronic, latent and/or recurring infectious conditions.
- Wor14World Health Organisation. Antimicrobial Resitance – Global Report on Surveillance.World Health Organisation,2014
- foodsafetynewsMost U.S Antibiotics Go to Animal Agriculture. Food Safety News. Last Accessed: 7th May 2014
- antibioticsInVegetablesWorried about Antibiotics in Your Beef? Vegetables May Be No Better. Scientific America. Last Accessed: 8th May 2014.
- triclosandolphinsAntibacterial found in dolphins.. Environmental Health News. Last Accessed: 7th May 2014.
- AnkMir9902S Ankri and D Mirelman. Antimicrobial properties of allicin from garlic.. Microbes Infect, 1(2):125–129, Feb 1999.
- Chopra01042007Ian Chopra. The increasing use of silver-based products as antimicrobial agents: a useful development or a cause for concern?. Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, 59(4):587–590, 2007.