The Little-Known Dangers of Antibiotics…
Is Antibiotic Overuse Driving Them to Extinction?
© 2016 Health Realizations, Inc. Update
The era of antibiotics, where deadly bacterial infections are knocked out completely in a matter of days, may be coming to an end soon, according to more than a handful of media headlines referring to a new paper in the Lancet Infectious Diseases medical journal. However, all hope is not lost.
The paper, by Professor Tim Walsh and colleagues, refers to a type of gene called NDM 1, which easily transfers between enterobacteriaceae bacteria (which includes E. coli and other types), making such bacteria resistant to antibiotics. NDM 1 is already widespread in other areas of the world, such as India, but it’s now showing up in the United States as well.
Walsh told The Guardian:
"In many ways, this is it … This is potentially the end. There are no antibiotics in the pipeline that have activity against NDM 1-producing enterobacteriaceae. We have a bleak window of maybe 10 years, where we are going to have to use the antibiotics we have very wisely, but also grapple with the reality that we have nothing to treat these infections with."
Without antibiotics, not only would common infections become far more deadly, but numerous medical procedures would be next to impossible, or incredibly dangerous, due to the high infection risk, and lack of a viable option to treat them. This includes:
All of these surgeries and treatments require antibiotics to prevent potentially life-threatening infections … but one day they may no longer be an option… if those that overuse antibiotics are not stopped!
Antibiotic Resistance: “The World’s Most Pressing Public Health Problem”
Antibiotic resistance develops when bacteria change in some way to resist the effects of an antibiotic. They may, for instance, “learn” how to neutralize the antibiotic before it can do harm, or pump the antibiotic out before it can do any damage. Others can even change the site the antibiotic attacks so it doesn’t affect the bacteria’s function.
Bacteria can even become antibiotic resistant because of a mutation in their genetic material or by acquiring parts of DNA from resistant bacteria. If even one bacteria is able to survive an antibiotic, it can quickly multiply and replace the bacteria that were killed off.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
“Antibiotic resistance has been called one of the world's most pressing public health problems. Almost every type of bacteria has become stronger and less responsive to antibiotic treatment when it is really needed.
These antibiotic-resistant bacteria can quickly spread to family members, schoolmates, and co-workers -- threatening the community with a new strain of infectious disease that is more difficult to cure and more expensive to treat. For this reason, antibiotic resistance is among CDC's top concerns …
If a microbe is resistant to many drugs, treating the infections it causes can become difficult or even impossible. Someone with an infection that is resistant to a certain medicine can pass that resistant infection to another person. In this way, a hard-to-treat illness can be spread from person to person. In some cases, the illness can lead to serious disability or even death.”
Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria Already on the Rise
Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are now all around us. One of the most well known is MRSA, which kills up to 20,000 Americans each year.
Not only is MRSA resistant to methicillin, which includes penicillin and related antibiotics, but it's beginning to become resistant to newer antibiotics as well.
For instance, one particularly lethal strain of MRSA, USA600, which causes bloodstream infections and is five times more lethal than other strains, is now showing some resistance to vancomycin, a powerful antibiotic that is used to treat it.
Clostridium difficile, or C. diff, is another bacteria that is rapidly becoming resistant to antibiotics. C. diff causes intestinal disease and cases have been increasing for years. An analysis of infection rates in 28 hospitals over a two year period found its prevalence is even higher than MRSA.
Further, according to the CDC, a growing number of disease-causing organisms are now resistant to one or more antibiotics. These include:
Group B strep
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)
Vancomycin-resistant Enterococci (VRE)
Vancomycin-Intermediate/Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (VISA/VRSA)
What is Causing the Rise in Antibiotic-Resistant Disease?
The problem with antibiotics is that they are often prescribed to treat viruses -- against which they are useless. Viruses like upper respiratory infections, measles, mumps, chickenpox, flu, and gastroenteritis are all viral infections, for which antibiotics are doing nothing.
Using antibiotics unnecessarily not only kills of beneficial bacteria in your body, it is also leading to the increase of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. As the CDC states:
“Antibiotic use promotes development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Every time a person takes antibiotics, sensitive bacteria are killed, but resistant germs may be left to grow and multiply. Repeated and improper uses of antibiotics are primary causes of the increase in drug-resistant bacteria.
While antibiotics should be used to treat bacterial infections, they are not effective against viral infections like the common cold, most sore throats, and the flu. Widespread use of antibiotics promotes the spread of antibiotic resistance. Smart use of antibiotics is the key to controlling the spread of resistance.”
Antibiotic-resistant superbugs are one of the greatest human threats, as even pharmaceutical companies along with universities are recognizing their presence that’s growing dramatically by the day.
You’re exposed to antibiotics not only by prescription but also through the food you eat.
About 70 percent of all antibiotics produced in the United States are given to livestock and poultry, which you then feed to your family. Meats and other animal products that contain antibiotics are actually a major source of antibiotic exposure to you and your family.
Further, when drugs are excreted in animal waste, the compounds linger in the environment. In the case of livestock waste, the antibiotic-laced manure is spread directly onto farm crops as fertilizer. From there it may run off into nearby streams. The result is antibiotic residue not only in animal foods, but also in your fruits and veggies and even your drinking water.
For instance, research from the University of Iowa found a new strain of MRSA in 70 percent of hogs and 64 percent of workers on farms that routinely use antibiotics. Experts are now realizing that this drug-resistant bacteria can spread via the food supply, water runoff and other methods, potentially putting the entire population at risk.
Antibiotic Dangers Beyond Superbugs …
Antibiotics do kill bacteria, and they do this quite well. The problem is that they not only kill the bad bacteria that may be causing your illness, but they also kill ALL bacteria, including the good kind in your digestive tract that your body needs, leaving barren territory for all sorts of trouble to brew.
If you have taken antibiotics unnecessarily, for a virus, for instance, you have therefore killed off all of the good bacteria in your system and may be more vulnerable to MRSA, C. diff and other infections.
Antibiotics are also linked to side effects in their own right, including tendon rupture, allergic reactions, diarrhea, upset stomach and vaginal yeast infections in women.
That said, when prescribed for bacterial infections like pneumonia, tuberculosis and meningitis they can be, and often are, life-saving, which is why antibiotics are medications that we would not want to see go extinct.
How Can You Help Reduce Antibiotic Overuse?
First, cut down on your exposure to antibiotics by only taking them when they’re absolutely necessary and do not pressure your health care provider to prescribe antibiotics if you do not have a bacterial infection.
If you are taking antibiotics, be sure you take them as prescribed and finish the entire treatment. If you stop too soon, some bacteria may survive and re-infect you.
Next, purchase organic meat and dairy products (which are antibiotic-free). This will not only help your family directly, but you’ll also be sending a message to agribusiness that you won’t support farming practices that endanger the environment and public health.
You can also trade in your antibacterial soaps and cleansers for natural varieties, as these harsh chemicals may be contributing to the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
A Simple Tip to Protect Yourself and Your Family from Antibiotic-Resistant Disease
The key to protecting yourself against these pathogens is to build your own natural immunity, and one way you can do this is by changing your inner environment so no unfriendly bacteria would want to live there. And the way to do this is to make sure you have enough good bacteria present to keep the bad bacteria at bay.
Studies have shown that probiotics may be helpful with both immune system modulation and allergies, plus they’re imperative if you’ve recently been on antibiotic therapy. It’s a simple step that may help keep you and your family in the best health possible.
Cultured foods like kefir (a fermented milk drink that tastes like tart yogurt) and traditionally fermented sauerkraut, natto and other fermented vegetables are also among the best sources of probiotics around. So in addition to taking a high-quality probiotic, adding these probiotic-rich foods to your diet is also important.
Clinical Infectious Diseases 15;47(6):735-43.
CDC.gov Diseases/Pathogens Associated with Antimicrobial Resistance
CDC.gov Facts About Antibiotic Resistance