In today’s world, we pump the hand soaps, disinfectants, detergents, window cleaners, surface sprays, mouthwashes, toothpastes, etc. like there’s no tomorrow! But what do all these things have in common? They tend to contain antibacterial chemicals.
On top of that, antibiotics are given to patients like lollies, sometimes when the issue has nothing to do with bacteria! It may be a viral problem, but antibiotics are prescribed, which is quite pointless because antibiotics were developed to stop bacteria and fungi, not viruses.
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 are just too many to comprehend. They then produce antibiotics, which are purified and pressed into tablets.
The truth is that these antibiotics are becoming less and less effective at fighting against harmful bacteria in the body as time goes on. A huge reason for this is antibiotic resistance.
So how do antibiotics actually work in killing bacteria in the body? Well, they work in 3 different ways:
- Filling bacteria with holes
- Poisoning bacteria
- Destroying bacteria’s ability to reproduce
You may have heard of the term ‘superbugs’ before? If not, they are simply 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 up these bacteria. Superbugs have become resistant to the very medicines created to kill them, and even other versions of that drug. As an example, some bacteria have become resistant not only to penicillin, but other variations of that antibiotic. Scary stuff, huh?
Drug resistant bacteria infect more than 2 million people in the U.S. alone, and kill at least 23,000 each year. It is predicted that by 2050, more than 10 million people worldwide will die each year from drug resistant infections – which will be higher than death rates from cancer – unless action is taken.
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 consuming small doses of them through our food and water supply, are all leading to antibiotic resistance, as superbugs are created.
The main reason for the over-prescribing 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 complete 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.
The pointless use of antibiotics does still kill bacteria, just sadly the beneficial kind, which is harmful in itself. When someone is treated (or overtreated) with antibiotics, good bacteria are destroyed along with the bad. While antibiotics may be necessary to eliminate diseases, if too much of the healthy bacteria are wiped out by them, bad bacteria are able to survive, take refuge where the good bacteria used to occupy your gut and reproduce there, eventually becoming immune to the very drugs meant to kill them. (Here’s how to heal skin infections using natural remedies). To avoid the unnecessary prescribing of antibiotics, doctors can perform a procalcitonin test, which indicates whether a cold is caused by a bacterial or viral infection.
There is no reason not to take antibiotics when it is medically appropriate to do so. The benefits certainly outweigh the cons. In such cases, those little tablets can save lives. Antibiotics stop bacteria from reproducing, the immune system kills off any remaining pathogens, and we soon start to feel better!
Just remember, when you’re prescribed antibiotics you must finish the course you’ve been given, not stop half-way through when you’re feeling better, as this can also lead to antibiotic resistance and the development of superbugs, as the remaining pathogens that survive are able to pass on this resistance gene to the next generation of bacteria.
Antibiotics In Food And Water Supply
Many experts believe that the overuse of antibiotics in livestock production are playing a significant role in antibiotic resistance. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has described the problem as approaching “crisis point” and explains that the world is moving to a point where many infections might soon be untreatable.
Because many antibiotics are given to animals, it’s important to source high quality meats. Opt for organic when possible and talk to local butchers at your farmer’s market to find out how the livestock have been raised and how they’re treated when ill. Whatever the animals you eat have been given will ultimately affect you too, so choose wisely.
But animal products aren’t the only places where antibiotics can be found, new research shows they are now appearing in plant foods as well. The manure, widely used as a substitute for chemical fertiliser, adds nutrients to the soil that helps plants to grow. It’s often used in organic farming, too. However, it’s estimated that 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, so that when they’re harvested, sold on the market, and cooked up for us to eat, the resulting consequence is that we end up consuming these antibiotics as well.
By consuming antibiotics in small doses regularly overtime, the bacteria in our bodies develop a resistance to these drugs which can result in antibiotic resistance.
Thus, it is important to source high-quality plant foods from sources you know and trust.
Water is another slippery source to watch out for (you like my pun I did there 😜). 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 through several routes: some people flush unneeded medication down toilets. Others take medication where their body will absorb some and pass the rest out in urine or faeces. Even after wastewater treatments and cleansing by water treatment plants, some pharmaceuticals still remain behind.
Using a high-quality water filter at home can help dramatically reduce the amount of drugs your body obtains through tap water.
As you become more aware of what you’re allowing into you body, you give yourself more power to prevent the occurrence of antibiotic resistance from happening in your own body.
Antibacterial soaps and other products are something to be well aware of as well. Do you remember the ads that say, “this soap will kill 99.9% of bacteria on surfaces”? Well, that 0.01% of bacteria that are left behind tend to be 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 recipe I use to make my own handwash!)
As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor before trying or using any new products.
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Have you heard of antibiotic resistance before? What are some preventative methods you take to avoid it?
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/antibiotic-resistance/
Walsh, Fergus. (December 11, 2014). Superbugs to kill ‘more than cancer’ by 2050. BBC News. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/health-30416844
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/stopping-superbugs/