Our Health Library

Beyond Antibiotics

Are there Healthier Options?

For decades, antibiotics have been the cornerstone of treatment for bacterial infections. Antibiotics have saved many lives during this time. However, doctors have come to rely too heavily on these miracle drugs and the overuse of antibiotics had led to serious problems.

The Crisis of Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria

According to Dr. Harold C. Neu, of Columbia University in New York, 'In 1941, a patient could receive 40,000 units of penicillin per day for four days and be cured of a case of pneumococcal pneumonia. Today, a patient could receive 24 million units of penicillin a day and die of pneumococcal meningitis.' He adds that bacteria that cause infection of the respiratory tract, skin, bladder, bowel, and blood '... are now resistant to virtually all of the older antibiotics. The extensive use of antibiotics in the community and hospitals has fuelled this crisis.'

Bacteria develop resistance to drugs when exposed to them for extended periods. Bacteria can also pass the genes for resistance from one type to another. A sort of information superhighway exists among bacteria that allows resistance to spread rapidly among bacteria that have not even been exposed to a particular antibiotic. These and other factors have caused medicine to take a halting look at the current way in which antibiotics are used.

Antibiotic Overuse and Chronic Health Complaints

For all of the potential benefits of antibiotics, a growing list of adverse health consequences has emerged because of antibiotic overuse. A small sample of these is listed below:

  1. Children with chronic earaches who took amoxicillin experienced 2 to 6 times more recurrent ear infections.
  2. 80% of those with chronic fatigue syndrome report a history of chronic antibiotic overuse.
  3. Antibiotic overuse may upset intestinal integrity and contribute to rheumatic joint disease.
  4. Women with 10 or more health complaints were much more likely to have a history of chronic antibiotic use.
  5. Antibiotic overuse can cause changes in the vaginal and bladder environment and contribute to recurrent bladder and vaginal infections.
  6. Antibiotic overuse can suppress immune function.

Treat the Bacteria or Treat the Person

Many doctors believe that illness from bacterial infection is far more likely when the immune system is compromised in some manner. Diet, nutrition, lifestyle, environment, social, and psychological factors all influence the immune system in significant ways. When unfavorable changes occur in these areas, immune function may suffer and bacteria may more easily gain a foothold. The treatment of bacterial infection should, therefore, at least include efforts to correct imbalances in these areas.

What Can You Do?

Medical scientists and policy makers are trying to reduce excessive antibiotic use by educating doctors and patients about the problems of antibiotic overuse. They are working to develop new drugs, to track infections in hospitals, and to improve public hygiene. These are important efforts, yet they do not address what the individual can do to improve immune function and avoid antibiotics. The best plan to improve immune function is one of overall wellness that includes :

  • Nutrition : low vitamin C and zinc lead to a sluggish immune response.

  • Diet : Excess refined sugar slow the ability of white blood cells to engulf and destroy bacteria.

  • Lifestyle : Sedentary people tend to have more sluggish immune systems.

  • Environment : Solvent chemicals and heavy metals increase susceptibility to infection

  • Psychological : Those under stress are more susceptible to infection.

  • Natural Remedies

    For many common ailments, natural remedies can be extremely helpful. Increasingly, scientific research is confirming time-honored traditions. Below are a few samples:

    1. Bladder Infection : unsweetened cranberry juice helps clear bacteria from bladder, as do yogurt and acidophilus.
    2. Ear Infections : vast majority of recurrent ear infections improved after removing food allergens from their diet.
    3. Upper Respiratory Infection : those who took a sauna once a week experienced half the rate of upper respiratory infections.
    4. Intestinal Infection : Homeopathic medicine has been helpful in reducing the incidence of infectious diarrhea in children.

    Are Antibiotics Being Overused in Your Care?

    The following guidelines will help you decide if your medical doctor might be prescribing antibiotics too liberally. Add a '1' for each time that applies.

    • Prescribes antibiotics over the phone.
    • Grants a refill of an antibiotic prescription without seeing you or your child.
    • Prescribes antibiotics without at least ordering a differential blood count.
    • Prescribes antibiotics without addressing your diet and nutritional status and lifestyle factors.
    • Prescribes antibiotics after only a brief, cursory examination.
    • Seems to ignore or 'write off' your descriptions of adverse antibiotic reactions.
    • Remarks to you that antibiotics are harmless and cause no side effects.
    • Does not take your concerns about antibiotic safety seriously.
    • Prescribes several courses of antibiotics without improvement and simply proceeds to prescribe another antibiotic.
    • Cuts your visit short by handing you a prescription and walking out the door.

    If the total score is more than 5, you may be receiving antibiotics needlessly. Ask your doctor for a full reevaluation of the situation or seek another opinion.