The concept of antibiotics doing more harm than good is not something that most people would ever think of. After all, they are handed out daily by doctors to millions of Americans. Many children receive antibiotics at least once a year and most animals are given massive doses as an accepted ritual in commercial livestock practices. Medical doctors would be lost without them and consequently never have anything bad to say about them, so who are we to say differently.
The inappropriate prescribing of antibiotics, however, has developed into a global health problem. Hundreds of millions of antibiotics prescriptions are handed out each year to Americans. In adults, over half of these are thought to be unnecessary. In children, the problem gets worse where as many as 80% of the antibiotics given to children are often considered to be unnecessary by health experts. Traditionally, there has been no follow-up in these populations to assess the harm or damage that can be done, or even to see if the antibiotics themselves were effective. Over the past few decades, carefully assessment and tracking by researchers has revealed major problems with our antibiotic love affair. Whether appropriately or inappropriately prescribed, there is a dark side to their use.
A recent report by the CDC showed that antibiotic prescriptions were often written incorrectly in hospitals. A comparison between several hospitals showed that some doctors were prescribing three times more antibiotics than other doctors even though the patients were receiving similar care. Many of the prescriptions written for antibiotics for urinary tract infections contained an error. If was found that approximately one-third of these prescriptions were written for too long of a time period, without a proper evaluation, or were just plain unnecessary for the situation.
Dr. Michael L. Barnett, from Harvard Medical School, states that “In addition to contributing to the prevalence of antibiotic resistant bacteria, unnecessary use of antibiotics also adds financial cost to the health care system and causes adverse effects for those taking the medication.”
Researcher, Dr. Jeffrey A. Linder, states, “We know that antibiotic prescribing, particularly to patients who are not likely to benefit from it, increases the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, a growing concern both here in the United States and around the world.” In a study that looked at prescribing rates by physicians, Dr. Linder found that for acute bronchitis, “the prescribing rate for the correct antibiotic should be near 0%, yet they found the national antibiotic prescribing rate was 73%.” In cases of throat infections, only 10% were due to bacteria, yet antibiotic prescribing rates were 60%.
The word antibiotic means “against life”, which now seems to have been a very appropriate choice of words. The widespread use of antibiotics began after World War II. It was quickly heralded as a cure-all for everything, even though from the very beginning antibiotics were associated with causing diseases and conditions. Despite the fact that antibiotics have only demonstrated effectiveness against bacteria, MDs continue to use it for viruses, yeasts, fungi, parasites, inflammation, vertigo, tinnitus, and a wide variety of conditions in which its use has never been approved. Governmental and world organizations have attempted to get MDs to reign in their inappropriate prescribing habits, but antibiotic prescriptions continue to increase yearly.
Scientists tell us that the bacterial flora of the body “is similar to an organ in that it performs functions essential for our survival. Some microbes produce vitamins and other essential nutrients. Many metabolize food that we can’t digest on our own. They also break down drugs and toxins, and regulate many aspects of innate and acquired immunity, protecting the host from infections and chronic inflammation, as well as possibly many immune-based disorders. And just as with the heart or the lungs, when an environmental agent alters the function of the microbiota, the result can be disease.”
Studies have shown that 5- and 7-day courses of antibiotics can destroy all 100 trillion of the bacteria in the gut and permanently alter the make-up of bacterial flora. Some bacteria never return leading to a permanent alteration in the composition of the body’s bacterial flora and along with it, the basis for a wide variety of diseases and conditions. The use of antibiotics reduces the diversity of microbes in the body. High levels of diversity are associated with health, and lower levels with disease.
Research is identifying a host of problems from antibiotic use alone. The epidemics in obesity and diabetes that humans are facing worldwide have been tied to disruption of the bacterial flora by antibiotics. The Gut-Brain Axis is an area of intense ongoing research. The gut flora has been shown to shape brain development and function. Altering that flora can alter brain function. Researchers from Stanford, University of California, San Diego and Davis, and the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota have all shown that an antibiotic-decimated gut flora opens the door to pathogenic infections like C. diff and E. coli that kill tens of thousands of Americans each year.
The common thought with antibiotics is that if no immediate effects are seen, then no long-term damage has been done, but this simply is not the case. Cause-and-Effect is a poor model in healthcare as many diseases and conditions may not arise for years or decades later. University of Washington researchers found that even one dose of antibiotics increases a women’s risk of breast cancer. The study reported that “Increased risk was observed in all antibiotic classes studied and in a subanalysis having breast cancer fatality as the outcome.”
In another study by Stanford researchers, it was found that “The acute effects of antibiotic treatment on the native gut microbiota range from self-limiting “functional” diarrhea to life-threatening pseudomembranous colitis. The long-term consequences of such perturbations for the human–microbial symbiosis are more difficult to discern, but chronic conditions such as asthma and atopic disease have been associated with childhood antibiotic use and an altered intestinal microbiota. Because many chemical transformations in the gut are mediated by specific microbial populations, with implications for cancer and obesity among other conditions, changes in the composition of the gut microbiota could have important but undiscovered health effects. An approximate return to pretreatment conditions often (but not always) occurs within days or weeks after cessation of antibiotic treatment, as assessed by subjective judgments of bowel function and characterizations of overall community composition using techniques with low phylogenetic resolution. However, the effects of a single course of antibiotics on specific microbial populations in vivo can persist for years.”
Consider all of these antibiotic-induced diseases:
Increased cardiovascular disease, strokes, and death (1), Immune system suppression (2), Altered behavior, anxiety, and nervous system imbalances (3), Increased pathogenicity of Staph Aureus (4), Development of systemic allergic diseases (5), Increased risk of pancreatitis (6), Increases in Strep throat (7), Increased risk of sudden death (8), Increase risk of infections (9), Increased risk of breast cancer (10), Life-threatening colitis (11), Obesity (12-15), Kidney stones (16), Kidney damage (17), Asthma (18), Systemic lupus (19), Eye disorders (20), Cancer (21), Sepsis and Systemic inflammation (22), Colon Cancer (23), Increased susceptibility to disease (24), Arthritis (25), Nerve Damage (26), Lung damage (27), Nutrient deficiencies (28), Liver failure (29), and many more as yet to be determined effects.
Additionally, consider the effect that antibiotic-induced fungal candida growth causes in the body. There are over 100 conditions linked to this post-antibiotic infectious agent that can create a lifetime of disability and disease.
Alexander Fleming, who is credited with the discovery of antibiotics, noted early on that development of antibiotic resistance from the mere use of antibiotics was inevitable. His early warnings, along with those of authorities and experts worldwide in more recent years, have not been heeded and now the World Health Organization states that antibiotic resistance is one of the top “three greatest threats to human health” on the planet. Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer for England, has asked the UK government to declare antibiotic resistance a national risk, giving it equal weight as a large scale terrorist attack and a flu pandemic. She goes on to say that, “‘We’ve clearly got it wrong, and I would argue that GPs (medical doctors) do need more training. If we don’t take action, deaths will go up and up and modern medicine as we know it will be lost.’
The medical profession is quick to blame patients for the rise in antibiotic resistance, yet the patients aren’t the ones who have the power to disperse these medications. References by MDs to patients not taking their antibiotics fully or appropriately, reveals both their willingness to pass the blame and responsibility onto the patient, as well as a serious lack of knowledge on how antibiotics function in the body to begin with. If a patient is given a 10-day prescription of antibiotics, but only takes 5 or 7 days worth, that has nothing to do with antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic resistance develops from day 1, pill 1. You can’t use antibiotics without creating resistance. Bacteria have over 300 times as many genes as human cells do and with that goes an amazing ability to start adapting to antibiotics almost instantly. I agree with Dame Sally. MDs need more training, a lot more.
It is unlikely that medical prescribing practices will change any time soon. It will take a complete overhaul of the medical field and prescribing practices to create any significant change. It will be easier to change the thinking of the population as a whole than it will be to change a profession who has no other alternatives to offer. Preventative care will need to become more commonplace. The power of herbs and natural health products as alternatives to drugs can easily fill any void created by not choosing to use antibiotics. If used, antibiotics should be the last option, not the first, second, or even third. If they are used, restoring the body flora to it’s pre-antibiotic state is a necessity and imperative.
Science has revealed the dark side of antibiotic use and its global cost in humans lives and suffering. Given that more antibiotics are prescribed inappropriately than appropriately, it’s easy to see how they do more harm than good.
(1) Azithromycin and The Risk of Cardiovascular Death. N Engl J Med 2012; 366:1881-1890May 17, 2012. http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1003833
(2) Experimental Study of Antibiotic-Induced Immunosuppression in Mice. II. Th, Ts and NC Cell Involvement. Comp Immunol Microbiol Infect Dis. 1983;6(4):301-12. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6231158
(3) The Intestinal Microbiota Determines Mouse Behavior and Brain BDNF Levels. Gastroenterology, Vol. 140, Issue 5, Supplement 1, Page S-57. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110517110315.htm
(4) Impact of Sub-Inhibitory Antibiotics on Fibronectin-Mediated Host Cell Adhesion and Invasion by Staphylococcus Aureus. BMC Microbiology 2011, 11:263. http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2180/11/263/abstract