The discovery of sulfa drugs and penicillin was tremendous benefit to mankind.
Taking antibiotics can save lives, and in some cases they are the only solution to a bacterial infection.
However, antibiotics have become a cure-all in the minds of the public as well as throughout the medical industry. Unfortunately, over-prescribing antibiotics can do far more harm than good.
There is no denying that antibiotics are important and taking antibiotics may even save lives.
However, the overuse of them is making antibiotics far less effective than they would otherwise be. Patients seem to expect an antibiotic for every health issue they may have. Even something as minor as the common cold.
In fact, a 2003 study published by the CDC revealed that 48% of people expected an antibiotic when they went to the doctor for a cold, believing it would help them get better faster. (1)
Doctors Even Prescribe Antibiotics When They Shouldn’t
Sadly, a 2002 study showed that doctors may prescribe taking antibiotics even though they know they won’t do anything to help the illness being treated, and could cause serious side effects. (2)
In their mind, they were building a relationship with their patients, but in reality, they were helping to create “super bugs” that resisted treatment within the general population.
One example of a super bug is MSRA, which stands for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. It is a staph infection that is not only resistant to antibiotics, but it can also lead to blood infections as well as other illnesses that could be life threatening.
Fortunately, better education as well as testing to determine the right antibiotic for the problem has made overprescribing of antibiotics less of a problem today than it was just a year or two ago.
However, the devastating results of overprescribing is still a problem. The Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics states the cost of antibiotic-resistant infections is over $20 billion per year. (3)
The Side Effects of Antibiotics
One of the more shocking side effects of certain antibiotics is their ability to increase the risk of birth defects if taken during pregnancy.
Sulfa-type antibiotics seem to be the ones most responsible for this. Sinus problems, cleft palate and deformed limbs are just a few of the defects linked to sulfa drugs. (4)
Other side effects can include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, allergic reactions, dizziness, convulsions, phototoxicity, damage to hearing, kidney damage and anaphylactic shock.
Reactions will vary based on the antibiotic used, but this list makes it clear that antibiotics are not as harmless as many doctors and patients like to believe. (5)
The Long Term Effects of Taking Antibiotics
One important thing to keep in mind with most antibiotics is that they kill bacteria. And they aren’t very picky about what kinds bacteria they kill.
As much as 80% of your immune system is in your gut. A strong immune system depends on healthy “good” bacteria in your gut to help your body fight illness. When you take an antibiotic, you are often destroying this good bacteria, and ultimately weakening your immune system once you’ve finished the antibiotic regimen.
A weak immune system means that you can get sick easier, which could lead to taking even more antibiotics. You may also become more susceptible to other infectious diseases that you otherwise would have been protected against. It is a seemingly endless cycle.
You may be wise enough to know that you don’t need antibiotics for the common cold or for the flu. Your doctor may be knowledgeable enough to only prescribe antibiotics if you really need them, instead of writing casual prescriptions like candy.
But even if you don’t get a prescription from your doctor, you may still be taking antibiotics and not even be aware of it. And these antibiotics hold the same dangers as the ones you get from the pharmacy.
The Dangers of Hidden Antibiotics in the Food Supply
According to the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics, half of the antibiotics used in the US are used in the production of food animals.
Farm animals are routinely injected with, as well as fed, antibiotics and antimicrobials as a precaution against illnesses, and to help animals gain weight.
However, these animals develop the same resistance as humans do, so the practice of routine antibiotics is doing far more harm than good.
It isn’t only the animals that suffer from over-use of medications. This is something that affects everyone.
Animal waste is commonly used for fertilizers. This means that untold numbers of drug-resistant bacteria is being spread throughout the environment where they can infect humans as well as animals.
As these resistant strains become stronger, they become more and more difficult to treat, and modern medicine has to struggle to find new solutions to an age-old problem that could have been avoided in the first place. (6)
There certainly may come a time in your life when taking antibiotics is critically needed – and when that happens, you should take them. They could save your life.
Boost Your Immune System Naturally
However, there are things you can do to keep your immune system strong, so you can avoid the need for an excessive amount of these drugs. Some of the more common sense things include washing your hands, getting enough rest and eating properly so your body has what it needs to protect itself.
Many people use herbs or supplements to keep their immune system strong. Vitamins A, C, D and E as well as selenium and zinc are all well-proven as essential for a healthy immune system.
Herbs such as echinacea, astragalus and garlic are also powerful immune boosters, although the medical community has yet to come to a full agreement as to what degree they are effective – so use good judgement.
Be sure to discuss any supplements with your doctor if you are taking any medications, because some supplements can interfere with their effectiveness.
In addition, echinacea, which is a well-known immune strengthening herb, is not advised for those with lupus and other illnesses.
Also, know where your food comes from and how it is raised. If you choose to eat meat, be aware of the practices used to produce that meat. Some farmers raise their animals free from chemicals, and while this may be a pricier option, it is also a safer and healthier option.
(1) Consumer Attitudes and Use of Antibiotics
(2) Evaluation of a national programme to reduce inappropriate use of antibiotics for upper respiratory tract infections –
(3) The cost of antibiotic resistance to U.S. families and the health care system
(4) Antibiotic Use During Pregnancy And Birth Defects
(5) Antibiotics: types and side effects
(6) Science of Resistance: Antibiotics in Agriculture
Image Credit: BBC, sxc.hu