Antimicrobial drugs have been used for decades to stop or control infections, saving lives around the world. While deaths from infectious disease may have decreased due to these stealthy bacteria-blasting agents, it is not without complications. Due to widespread misuse and overuse of antibiotics, infectious bacteria have learned to adapt and outsmart antibiotics, resulting in antibiotics being ineffective at killing the infectious organisms. In turn, the bacteria that once were a minor problem can become serious, such as community acquired methicillin-resistant staph aureus (MRSA) that can present as a “simple” skin infection or become more invasive, even life-threatening.
I like to explain it the following way to kids.
Let’s say your little brother sprays you with a water gun when you walk around the corner, leaving you extremely startled, upset and drenched. The next time your turn that corner, you are quite aware that this may happen again, so you arm yourself with a Nerf Super Soaker Double Drench water gun strapped across both arms, prepared to send him soaked and floating down the hallway. Imagine the spray coming from little brother’s water gun is the antibiotic, and your awareness and added artillery are the resistance. You did not come back with a tiny squirt gun. You are ready to resist, morph, and take over. In a similar way, the bacteria encountering antibiotics have this mindset.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, simply using antibiotics is the single most important factor leading to antibiotic resistance! I have seen first-hand how antibiotics can be overprescribed, leading to gut dysfunction and/or superinfections. This is just the tip of the iceberg! Fortunately, many situations allow for a “watch and wait” approach, for example, a cold virus or viral ear infection may just need a little time and supportive care to clear on its own. This often takes monitoring and supervision by a medical provider, but it is proof of how we can work collectively as healthcare providers and advocates to preserve the integrity of antibiotics, decrease antibiotic resistance, and protect the microbiomes of our children and families.
Thankfully, in integrative medicine we are always trying to limit the use of antibiotics and use them when they are the only option for a susceptible bacterial (key word!) infection. We also aim to use more natural antimicrobials when possible. Most importantly, we focus on boosting the immune system’s ability to fight infection. For example, oregano oil, garlic, and vitamin C are just a few of the options we use to boost immunity and help combat infection. There is an entire world of compounds in plants called phytochemicals that can ward off bugs and preserve our good bacteria. Just look outside, plants do it every day!
Be your own advocate by asking your medical provider to work with you to avoid exposure to unnecessary antibiotics. Also, for those who would like to learn more and how to help stop this problem, groups such as the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine provides information on animal agriculture and antibiotic resistance. This directly impacts our food chains and our microbiomes!
Here is one statement by the CDC that really stands out to me: “Each year in the United States, at least 2 million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die each year as a direct result of these infections.”
I think this statement says enough. Let’s reserve antibiotics for when they are absolutely necessary.
Categories: Holistic Health