“I’m sure glad I wasn’t born in the Stone Age, before antibiotics were discovered!”
That was my grandfather, who lived to be 95 but had his share of heart infections. Antibiotics saved his life….again and again and again.
Chances are you feel the same way, if you’re like four out of five Americans who have used antibiotics at least once this year. Since penicillin first hit the scene in the 40’s, antibiotics have been a godsend, revolutionizing the way we treat infection, save lives, and spare suffering.
But the trouble is, antibiotics just aren’t working anymore.
Bacteria are smart little buggers – they’re much more intelligent than we give them credit for. They are able to multiply rapidly, quickly evolve and adapt to their environment, and pass information on to future generations.
And now, it’s clear that bacteria are on to us. It didn’t take long for them to get wise to our antibacterial ways. They are quickly becoming resistant to our ever-expanding arsenal of targeted antibiotics.
Scientists can’t keep pace with these new uber bacteria, they can’t develop new drugs fast enough, and in the next decade common infections like strep throat could once again be lethal.
Hyperbole aside, most health and public policy experts agree that the world is hurtling head first into a major antibiotics crisis. According to a recent WHO report, “A post-antibiotic era – in which common infections and minor injuries can kill – far from being an apocalyptic fantasy, is instead a very real possibility for the 21st Century.”
This crisis is complex and multi-faceted, but the simple fact is antibiotics are overused and misused across the globe, which in turn is creating new strains of superbad superbugs.
- Antibiotics are overused. The more antibiotics you take, the more likely you’ll be to develop a drug-resistant infection. That’s because, while the drugs kill most of the bacteria, the most naturally resistant ones are most likely to survive—and give rise to a whole new superbad generation. Doctors are writing millions of antibiotics prescriptions at the first sign of illness and patients demand them immediately, instead of first giving the body time to fight the infection. And did you know that antibiotics for humans only account for about 20% of the antibiotic use in this country? The other 80% is pumped into to livestock and food animals – mostly to promote growth, not to cure acute infections.
- Antibiotics are misused. Antibiotics are great for acute cases of dangerous bacterial infections, but at least half of all prescriptions are handed out “just in case” or unnecessarily, as for the flu or other viral infections that don’t respond to antibiotics. And most people use them the wrong way – taking them too often for the wrong kinds of infections, or taking weak doses for too short a duration.
- Antibiotics don’t always target “bad” bacteria. In Go Probiotic, I talked about why your body needs certain types of bacteria to stay healthy. Your immune system, your digestion, your brain, your jaunty mood all depend on having adequate levels of “good” bacteria. But antibiotics often kill off the good guys as well as the infectious variety, leaving you seriously compromised.
So what can we do about this superbad situation?
Last week, we did get some encouraging news that new soil bacteria discoveries might lead to the development of new classes of antibiotics, and that’s great for the short-term.
But for the long term we must change the way we use antibiotics – both as individuals and as a society – if we want a sustainable answer to bacterial diseases.
Take action! Here’s what you can do right now to help turn the tide:
Ditch the antibacterial products. Don’t buy into the hype sold by Clorox, Purell, and their antibacterial bedfellows. You don’t need to kill every bug within a 5-mile radius of your kid or your kitchen. And you don’t need their chemical products – just a little soap and water will do. Remember that humans evolved surrounded by all kinds of bugs, and your immune system actually relies on stimulation to develop and function properly. Think of bacteria as microscopic personal trainers for your immune system, giving it practice fighting off garden-variety illness and infection.
Just say no to antibiotics unless absolutely necessary. Did you know that many common infections don’t necessarily need to be treated with antibiotics? Sinus infection, bronchitis, ear infections – just to name a few. Ask your doctor if you really need drugs for whatever is ailing you, or if it’s safe to wait and see. Be patient, give your body a bit of time to fight on its own. It’s not quick and it’s not sexy, but good old-fashioned rest, fluids – and maybe a little chicken soup – should be the first prescription you fill.
Try Pl-antibiotics. Plants are also a lot smarter than we give them credit for. They are naturally resistant to harmful bacteria, evolving constantly to defend themselves from new bacterial invaders. Herbs and plant alternatives to synthetic antibiotics have been used successfully for centuries all over the world, and with a little research, you can find a good pl-antibiotic. These should get you started:
Spread the word. Tell the federal government to limit the use of antibiotics in medicine, industry and farming. Learn more about the issue, sign a petition or two, tell a friend.
If we can slash the amount of antibiotics we all use, maybe – just maybe – we won’t have to say to our grandkids “I remember the good old days, when we had these things called antibiotics….”