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Antibiotics: What You Need To Know

Antibiotics have saved millions of lives. Trust me, we would not want to revert to the days before antibiotics. However, the issue arises from our excessive and incorrect use, creating a crisis within our bodies and the world.

Healthcare providers prescribe millions of antibiotics (abx) each year. Shockingly, up to 43% are unnecessary. This misuse is where the trouble starts, and this issue isn’t exclusive to countries requiring prescriptions for antibiotics. In places where antibiotics can be bought over the counter, their use is even more unnecessary.

What are Antibiotics?

Antibiotics are medicines that combat bacterial infections in people and animals. They function by killing bacteria or inhibiting their growth and multiplication. It’s vital to note that antibiotics are effective against bacterial infections, not viral ones.

Antibiotics have been utilized for thousands of years to manage infections, even during times when the causes of infections were unknown. Our ancestors, like ancient Egyptians, used various molds and plant extracts to treat infections.

Despite these primitive treatments, infections that we now find easy to treat – such as pneumonia and diarrhea caused by bacteria – were the leading cause of human death in the developed world until the 20th century. This situation persisted until the formal discovery of antibiotics.

A Brief History of Antibiotics

The accidental discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming marked a turning point. He noticed that a fungus, Penicillium notatum, had contaminated a culture plate of Staphylococcus bacteria he had left uncovered. The fungus suppressed bacterial growth, leading to the birth of penicillin.

The discovery of penicillin in 1928 marked the beginning of the golden age of natural product antibiotic discovery, peaking in the mid-1950s.

The successful administration of penicillin led to the U.S. government supporting its mass production. By the end of World War II, penicillin was widely recognized as ‘the wonder drug.’

Before antibiotics, infections like bacterial meningitis were often fatal. Other severe infections like tuberculosis, pneumonia, and whooping cough led to death, too. Apart from combating infections, abx made several modern medical procedures viable, including cancer treatment, organ transplants, and open-heart surgery. The average lifespan increased by 23 years with the advent of antibiotics.

However, these life-saving medicines come with a cost.

The Advent of Superbugs

Likely the most severe consequence of antibiotic misuse is antimicrobial resistance. This resistance means that some bacteria have become completely resistant to antibiotics. These bacteria, known as superbugs, cause infections that are currently untreatable by any antibiotics. It’s predicted that drug-resistant infections will kill 10 million people annually by 2050.

Overuse and Misuse of Antibiotics

Incorrect use of antibiotics contributes significantly to the superbug problem. Physicians prescribing antibiotics too quickly or patients insisting on taking the drug contribute to this issue.

Remember that these drugs ONLY WORK on bacteria. Hence conditions like colds, the flu, bronchitis, and even most sore throats are usually caused by viruses and don’t require the drug.

Also, it’s essential to correctly use antibiotics. Incomplete treatment with these drugs can leave some bacteria which can then develop resistance. Sharing the drug is also harmful as it often results in incomplete treatment.

Antibiotics are sometimes abused due to the quick-fix mentality of healthcare providers and patients. This continual misuse creates a conducive environment for superbugs to thrive.

Antibiotic Misconceptions

A common mistake people make with abx is not finishing the full course of treatment. Bacteria that survive the antibiotic treatment can become resistant and create a superbug. Hence, it’s critical to finish the prescribed course of antibiotics, even if symptoms have subsided.

Aside from superbugs, antibiotics can also have side effects, including allergic reactions and severe diarrhea caused by Clostridium difficile (C. diff). They may also interfere with other medications, leading to one in five emergency department visits.

Antibiotics & The Microbiome

Antibiotics can become detrimental by damaging our gut ecosystem, often called our microbiome. It consists of 100 trillion bugs living inside us, outnumbering our cells 10 to 1. Antibiotics are efficient at eliminating the harmful bacteria causing infection, but unfortunately, they also destroy beneficial bacteria. This indiscriminate eradication can introduce significant problems.

The Role of Gut Bacteria

The trillions of bacteria in your gut collectively contain at least 100 times as many genes as in your human genome. This bacterial DNA significantly outnumbers your own DNA and regulates many crucial functions.

Bacterial DNA controls immunity, digestion, intestinal function, infection protection, and even the production of vitamins and nutrients. When these drugs obliterate these beneficial bacteria, it leaves the field wide open for the overgrowth of harmful pathogens, yeast, and candida. This overgrowth can cause an array of issues such as mood disorders, food allergies, fatigue, skin issues, and digestive problems.

The composition of the microbiome has now been indicated to impact various health conditions, such as autoimmune issues, inflammatory bowel disease, gastric ulcers, certain cancers, anxiety depression, and skin disorders.

Recovery and Restoration Measures

If you’ve already been on these drugs for various reasons, the following steps can guide you towards repairing your gut.

Consuming Nutritious Food

Consuming a low-glycemic, whole-food diet and taking high-quality probiotics and prebiotics can help. Probiotics help populate your gut with beneficial bacteria, while prebiotics, found in onions, garlic, resistant starch, sweet potatoes, and dandelion greens, feed these good bugs.

Focus on Gut Repair

After completing a course of antibiotics, concentrate on gut repair, using gut-healing nutrients such as L-glutamine, omega-3 fats, vitamin A, and zinc. Along with this, digestive enzymes can assist in better food digestion and absorption.

Strengthening the Immune System

If you find yourself getting sick often or frequently suffering from sinus issues or chronic UTIs, it might indicate an underlying issue. Your immune system might need help rather than another round of antibiotics. Chronic inflammation often predisposes you to illnesses more frequently.

Every antibiotic cycle might weaken your immune response, making you more susceptible to another illness. Break this vicious cycle by treating the underlying inflammation and strengthening your immune system to prevent recurrent infections.

The Bottom Line

Antibiotics are lifesaving – we don’t want a world without them. However, we must use them wisely and correctly. While on antibiotics, be extra careful with your gut health by focusing on diet and probiotics. And if you’re someone who is chronically ill, work on strengthening your immune system to decrease the need for antibiotics.

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