Antibiotics have revolutionised modern medicine and how we treat illness. However, we’re now facing a new problem, something that could be quite catastrophic if left unaddressed. But it’s not just the small tablets we’re given that could be contributing to this issue, some of the reasons could be stemming from our daily habits…
In our modern society, we pump the hand soaps, disinfectants, detergents, window cleaners, surface sprays, mouthwashes, toothpastes (and the list goes on) like there’s no tomorrow! But what do all these things have in common? They often contain antibacterial chemicals.
Antimicrobial resistance threatens the effective prevention and treatment of an ever-increasing range of infections caused by bacteria, parasites, viruses and fungi. It is an increasingly serious threat to global public health that requires action across all government sectors and society. Antimicrobial resistance is present in all parts of the world. New resistance mechanisms are emerging and spreading globally.
When researchers discovered the unique properties of antibiotics, pharmaceutical companies began intensely farming bacteria. The process involves using huge tanks (with a capacity of up to 100,000 litres) to farm bacteria in numbers that our minds just can’t comprehend. From here antibiotics are produced, which are purified and pressed into tablets.
Unfortunately, these antibiotics are becoming less and less effective at fighting harmful bacteria in the body. One of the main reasons; antibiotic resistance.
According to Giulia Enders in her book; Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Under-rated Organ, antibiotics work in three different ways:
- Fill bacteria with holes
- Poison bacteria
- Destroy bacteria’s ability to reproduce
You may have heard of the term ‘superbugs‘ before. These are strains of bacteria that have become resistant to antibiotics. They’re born out of the ashes of the bacteria killed by antibiotics. Survival of the fittest pretty much sums how these bacteria come to be. Superbugs develop a resistance to the very medicines created to kill them, and even other versions of that drug.
According to BBC News article; Superbugs to kill ‘more than cancer’ by 2050;
Drug resistant infections will kill an extra 10 million people a year worldwide – more than currently die from cancer – by 2050 unless action is taken
As of today, drug resistant bacteria infect more than 2.8 million people in the U.S. alone, while according to the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Healthcare;
The most comprehensive report produced on Australian antimicrobial use and resistance trends has found that antimicrobial use in the community is falling, but they continue to be overprescribed, while some dangerous bacteria are growing increasingly resistant to common antibiotics.
Causes of Antibiotic Resistance
Over-prescribing antibiotics, combined with skipping doses, sharing antibiotics, not taking medicines at regular intervals as indicated, “saving some for later“, and ingesting small doses through our food and water supply, are all leading to antibiotic resistance.
According to Dr. Axe, bacteria are able to become resistant to antibiotics by;
– Developing the ability to neutralise the antibiotic
– Others pump the antibiotic out of the body rapidly because it can be effective
– Others change their attack site to another location in the body
While antibiotics have been a life-saving treatment, helpings thousands of people worldwide over the years, they must be respected and not thrown around for every little thing, such as the common cold. Antibiotics will help with bacterial infections, but aren’t useful for treating viral infections, coughs, or the common cold or flu.
Only use Antibiotics when needed
One of the main culprits for the over-prescription of antibiotics is when people take them for ‘colds’. Colds are often not even caused by bacteria, but by viruses. Remember, antibiotics only work on bacteria and fungi, so taking them to cure a cold caused by a virus is usually a waste of time. If they do bring about an improvement, this is usually due either to the placebo effect or to the work of the immune system in fighting the cold virus.
When someone is treated (or overtreated) with antibiotics, good bacteria are destroyed along with the bad. This may sometimes be necessary to eliminate diseases, however, if too much healthy bacteria are wiped out, bad bacteria can take refuge where the good bacteria used to live and reproduce there. Eventually, they become immune to the very drugs meant to kill them.
There is no reason not to take antibiotics when it is medically appropriate to do so. Antibiotics can save lives by stopping bacteria from reproducing, allowing the immune system to kill off any remaining pathogens, enabling the body to heal.
Note: Always remember to finish the course of antibiotics you’ve been given, not stop half-way through when you’re feeling better. This can lead to antibiotic resistance and the development of superbugs, as the remaining pathogens are able to pass on this resistance gene to the next generation of bacteria.
Avoid Factory Farmed Meats and Filter Drinking Water
It’s believed that the overuse of antibiotics in livestock production is playing a significant role in antibiotic resistance.
Source high quality meats (opt for organic) when possible and talk to your local butchers to find out how the livestock was raised and how they were treated when ill.
Animal products aren’t the only places where antibiotics can be found, though. New research shows plant foods now contain traces as well. The manure, used as a substitute for chemical fertiliser, and often used in organic farming, too, is thought to b the cause of this. According to Scientific American;
Around 90% of these drugs that are administered to animals end up being excreted either as urine or manure.
The plants grown in this manure and take up the antibiotics, along with other nutrients in the soil.
Water is another source to be mindful about. According to WebMD;
Tiny amounts of pharmaceuticals – including antibiotics, hormones, mood stabilisers, and other drugs – are in our drinking water supplies.
The drugs make their way into our water supply via several pathways:
- Some flush unneeded medication down toilets
- Others ingest medication where their body will absorb some and pass the rest out in urine or faeces
- Pharmaceuticals may still remain even after wastewater treatments by water treatment plants
Using a high-quality water filter at home can help reduce levels of these drugs in tap water.
How to Prevent Antibiotic Resistance
The first step is to become more aware of what you’re allowing into your body. While it may seem simple, this actually provides you with the power to change unhealthy habits and reduce levels of antibacterial chemicals you may come into contact with on a day-to-day basis. As they say, you can’t change what you don’t know.
Antibacterial soaps and other products are something to be mindful about. Do you remember those ads that promote; “this [product] will kill 99.9% of bacteria on surfaces“? Well, that 0.01% of bacteria left behind are often the ones that pass on their resistant genes to their offspring. So, instead of using this type of handwash, opt for good, old-fashioned soap and water (this is the handwash I use).
According to Dr. Axe, other preventative measures for antibiotic resistance include;
– Only use antibiotics when necessary
– Practice good hygiene to prevent spreading germs
– Increase immunity naturally using your diet
– Take probiotics and eat probiotic-rich foods
– Consume “Mother Nature’s antibiotics” – onions, mushroom, turmeric, echinacea, manuka honey, colloidal silver, raw garlic
As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor before trying or using any new products. It’s important to check with a doctor before taking this or any new product, especially if taking any other medicine or supplement or if pregnant or nursing. Be sure to check ingredients to make sure there is no risk of an allergic reaction to it.
Have you heard of antibiotic resistance before? What are some preventative methods you take to avoid it? Share below in the comments.
Lots of love,
Enders, Giulia. (2014). Gut : The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Under-rated Organ. SCRIBE. Ullstein Buchverlage GmbH. Berlin.
Levy, Jillian CHHC. (June 27, 2017). Are You at Risk for Antibiotic Resistance?. Dr. Axe. Retrieved from https://draxe.com/health/antibiotic-resistance/
Antimicrobial resistance. (13 October 2020). World Health Organisation. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/antimicrobial-resistance
Antibiotic / Antimicrobial Resistance (AR / AMR). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/index.html
Walsh, Fergus. (December 11, 2014). Superbugs to kill ‘more than cancer’ by 2050. BBC News. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/health-30416844
Third comprehensive report on antibiotic resistance identifies ongoing threat. Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care. Retrieved from https://www.safetyandquality.gov.au/media_releases/third-comprehensive-report-on-antibiotic-resistance-identifies-ongoing-threat
Quinn, Sue. (April 11, 2016). Antibiotics in food: are we facing a crisis?. The Telegraph. Retrieved from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/health-fitness/nutrition/antibiotics-in-food-are-we-facing-a-crisis/
Cimitile, Matthew. (January 6, 2009). Beef? Vegetables May Be No Better. Scientific American. Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/vegetables-contain-antibiotics/
Doheny, Kathleen. (March 10, 2008). Drugs in Our Drinking Water?. WebMD. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/features/drugs-in-our-drinking-water
Munoz, Kissairis. (June 5, 2016). Stopping Superbugs in 4 Steps. Dr. Axe. Retrieved from https://draxe.com/health/stopping-superbugs/